- Ben FritzThe Wall Street JournalCANCEL
Updated Feb. 5, 2015 2:40 p.m. ET
’s decision to step down as co-chairman of
Pictures solves a thorny problem for the studio’s parent company about whether to keep on its embattled motion-picture chief while also setting her up with a lucrative production deal.
Ms. Pascal, who has run Sony’s film business for more than a decade, said Thursday she will step down in May to begin a four-year production deal with the company.
With her contract expiring this spring, Ms. Pascal had been undecided about whether to seek to stay on following a very stressful two years that included the recent cyberattack on the company; an attack on her leadership by activist investor
; and ongoing pressure from Sony to cut costs.
In addition, while Sony has had a number of midbudget hits including “22 Jump Street,” “American Hustle” and “Captain Phillips,” it has struggled under Ms. Pascal to create the type of globally popular franchises that can fuel big profits for a studio. This past summer’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” the company’s biggest attempt at such a picture in recent years, was a modest disappointment.
Her boss, Sony Pictures Chief Executive
didn’t ask her to step down, according to people familiar with the matter. But in discussions with his deputy, the two had gone back and forth on whether it would be best for the company—and Ms. Pascal—for her to renew her contract, the people said.
Under the four-year deal, Sony will underwrite a multimillion-dollar annual budget over which Ms. Pascal has discretion to develop new film, television and theater projects. At a time when production deals are increasingly rare in budget-conscious Hollywood, one of these people described Ms. Pascal’s as one of the most lucrative since former News Corp. Chief Operating Officer
left in 2009 to become a producer.
It’s common for departing studio executives who want to stay in the movie business to be set up with multiyear production deals as part of their exit package.
- Inside Sony’s Oscar Campaign (1/15/15)
- How the Hacking Crisis Unfolded at Sony (12/30/14 )
- Two Top Sony Movie Executives Are Longtime Obama Supporters (12/19/14 )
- Data Breach Sets Off Upheaval at Sony Pictures (12/4/14)
Among the numerous Sony executives whose emails were leaked following the November cyberattack, Ms. Pascal was the most affected and the most upset, people close to the studio have said. The media pounced on emails that included racially tinged comments about President
for which she later apologized, as well as private negotiations over a biopic of
The cyberattack, which the Federal Bureau of Investigationblamed on hackers backed by the North Korean government, crippled the company’s computer network, revealed personal information including Social Security numbers for more than 47,000 current and former employees, and put the company in the international spotlight as it went back and forth on whether to release the movie.
In various emails, the hackers said they carried out the attack as retribution for “The Interview,” a raunchy comedy that depicts the assassination of North Korean leader
Kim Jong Un.
Many in Hollywood have described Ms. Pascal as part of a fading breed of studio chiefs who don’t have a business background, rose through the ranks of film production and make decisions largely on gut instinct.
It isn’t yet clear whom, if anyone, Mr. Lynton will name to succeed Ms. Pascal.
Ms. Pascal’s inbox included several messages that forced public apologies. In one particularly damaging exchange with producer
she joked about what movies Mr. Obama might enjoy, and then listed several titles with prominent African-American lead stars. Ms. Pascal apologized for the messages and met with civil-rights leader
following their release.
Other messages showed Ms. Pascal casting doubt on her studio’s own releases, and included gossipy exchanges about several celebrities.
—Erich Schwartzel contributed to this article.
Write to Ben Fritz at firstname.lastname@example.org
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