Toby Emmerich Out As Warner Bros Motion Picture Group Chairman; Michael De Luca & Pam Abdy To Lead Studio

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UPDATED with more details, confirmation by studio: Toby Emmerich is out as the head of Warner Bros’ motion picture studio. Replacing him are Michael De Luca and Pam Abdy, who recently exited the helm of MGM. This had been rumored since before they exited that studio (they’ll stay into the summer until their contracts expire). This is part of Warner Bros Discovery CEO David Zaslav’s grand plan to split Warner Bros into multiple labels, with Warner Bros proper/New Line, DC Entertainment and Warner Animation.

See the studio’s release making the moves official below.

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Facing a new construct where he would have given up oversight of DC and Animation, Emmerich instead chose to step down and right into a lucrative production deal at Warner Bros, given him by Zaslav, so even though Warner Discovery is the home of Game of Thrones, this wasn’t nearly as ruthless. The fates of DC boss Walter Hamada and the other executives who’ve been loyal to Emmerich — i.e., New Line’s Richard Brener and Warner Bros Motion Pictures Group COO Carolyn Blackwood — are unclear at this moment. This bubbled all morning at the studio with a senior management meeting to start the day at 9 a.m.

Emmerich will stay at the helm until the summer, until De Luca and Abdy board, and they will run DC in the short term along with Animation until Zaslav makes his permanent hires. MGM, which is losing De Luca and Abdy, is aggressively looking for new leadership to remain a generator of theatrical content. Deadline hears that former Fox motion pictures boss Emma Watts is the candidate most often mentioned for what could be a plum job.

The mix of personalities will be interesting and in a way De Luca comes full circle, but in a much bigger job. When De Luca was fired from New Line in January 2001 after a string of unsuccessful films including Little Nicky, he was replaced by New Line Music president Emmerich, so this is an interesting turnabout. He was a wunderkind back in the day when owner Bob Shaye appointed him one of Hollywood’s youngest-ever production presidents, and he rewarded them with hits from the Austin Powers to the Rush Hour and Blade series, to the Jim Carrey comedies The Mask and Dumb and Dumber to critically acclaimed pics like Boogie Nights, Seven and Magnolia. Many of the execs there are long timers who have relationships with De Luca — New Line president Brener among them — and so De Luca might not feel the need to clean house with people he grew up with. In De Luca, Warners gets an executive known for having strong relationships with filmmakers like David Fincher and Paul Thomas Anderson and he’s known for a willingness to go hard at getting big pictures, and for betting on his gut. As a producer, his films include Moneyball, Captain Phillips and the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise. He’s got the bona fides for a big job like this.

The “Elvis” team at the film’s world premiere in Cannes last month - Credit: Boesl/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
The “Elvis” team at the film’s world premiere in Cannes last month - Credit: Boesl/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Boesl/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

All this news comes at a time after Emmerich and Zaslav traveled to Cannes together, and sat next to each other at the world premiere of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis which received the fest’s longest standing ovation this year at 10 minutes. Deadline spoke with Zaslav briefly at the premiere on the Croisette and he was over the moon about the reception of Elvis, and wowed by Lurhmann. It was reported in the Wall Street Journal recently that Zaslav raked Warner Bros brass over the coals over their expenditures on the 2021 slate (which went day-and-date on HBO Max), specifically zeroing in on Clint Eastwood and his Cry Macho, that Oscar-winning filmmaker known for being frugal and delivering his final cuts in on a timely basis. It’s our understanding that Emmerich was never in such meetings when Zaslav went off on budgets. It will be an interesting adjustment for Zaslav, whose background is in fiscally efficient non-scripted fare. Elvis took years of care and feeding to guide it through a pandemic where its star Tom Hanks was the first major celebrity to catch Covid. Keeping in the fold filmmakers like Clint Eastwood (who delivered the surprise blockbuster American Sniper a few years ago), has traditionally been the life’s blood of Warner Bros. Even at 92 years young, Eastwood directs like he’s double parked, and has never been known as a profligate spender, by the way, so that story if true hardly flatters Zaslav.

De Luca has always prized filmmakers, and it will be interesting to see how patient Zaslav will be. One of De Luca’s signature films at New Line was Seven, a picture that tested horribly but turned out to be a seminal New Line blockbuster. You don’t rush the David Finchers and Paul Thomas Andersons, and Warner Bros found out how fragile these relationships can be when Jason Kilar put the entire 2021 slate on HBO Max to build subscribers. While he didn’t have a film on that slate, Nolan was incensed. Nolan, whose Warner Bros blockbusters included The Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception, didn’t invite Warner Bros to bid on his next film, Oppenheimer, which Universal swooped in to win and hopes it becomes Nolan’s new home. Tom Rothman did a similar thing at Sony when Quentin Tarantino became a free agent on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Tarantino had final cut and leverage when China threatened to banish the film from its marketplace unless a scene with Bruce Lee was removed. Even though it cost them money, Sony stuck by him, and has the incumbent’s advantage when Tarantino is ready to direct his next film, which he has said will be his last.

Also, though Kilar has tub-thumped about the decision to put the slate on HBO Max, after Top Gun: Maverick, you can’t help but wonder how some of the movies on the WB slate like Dune would have done had the studio showed a bit more patience. That box office revenue is cold hard cash, as opposed to the fickle streaming numbers Wall Street has begun to question with Netflix’s precipitous stock drop. There have been rumors that former Warner Bros and then Disney exec Alan Horn might be an advisor in the new configuration, and he would be a good influence on Zaslav. His return to Warner Bros, after the studio unceremoniously and foolishly dumped him years ago, would be as compelling a narrative as De Luca’s.

Emmerich took the top job at Warner Bros after leading New Line as President and COO in December 2016. Greg Silverman then stepped down as President of Creative Development and Worldwide Production with Emmerich becoming President and Chief Content Officer of Warner Bros Pictures Group.

Warner Bros just had a blockbuster in the Matt Reeves-directed The Batman with Robert Pattinson making over $770 million, and a sequel was announced at CinemaCon in April. Elvis off the heat of Cannes opens June 24. Also upcoming for Warner Bros is the Dwayne Johnson-starrer DC film Black Adam through New Line, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, a Salem’s Lot remake and New Line’s Don’t Worry Darling with Olivia Wilde directing Harry Styles. Next year comes The Flash (though Ezra Miller’s odd behavior leaves a question mark), Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, Barbie with Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, New Line’s zombie thriller The Last Train to New York, the DC superhero film Blue Beetle, and Wonka, the next installment of Willy Wonka, with Timothée Chalamet taking the role last played by Johnny Depp. There is also a Blitz Bazawule-directed remake of The Color Purple. One of the notable movies released during Emmerich’s run was DC’s Joker, which became the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all-time with $1.07 billion.

Here’s the official statement from today:

Industry veterans and former MGM film executives Michael De Luca and Pam Abdy have been appointed co-chairpersons and CEOs of Warner Bros. Pictures Group, which currently includes Warner Bros. Pictures, New Line Cinema, DC-Based Film Production, and Warner Bros. Feature Animation.

As part of a new long-range strategy, Warner Bros. Pictures Group will be broken out into three distinct business segments with Warner Bros. Pictures/New Line Cinema, Warner Bros. Feature Animation, and DC-Based Film Production each under separate leadership. In the interim, these segments will remain under the film group with day-to-day oversight by De Luca and Abdy.

Most recently, De Luca and Abdy led MGM Studios as motion picture group chairman and president, respectively, since 2020. They are stepping down following Amazon’s $8.5 billion deal to acquire MGM and will join Warner Bros. Discovery this summer after a period of transition.

“Michael and Pam are supremely talented creative leaders with a proven track record of success. We are thrilled to welcome them both to our Warner Bros. Discovery family, and look forward to seeing them take this nearly century-old iconic studio to even greater heights of excellence in film,” said David Zaslav, Chief Executive Officer, Warner Bros. Discovery.

“Warner Bros. is home to the best creatives in the business and Pam and I look forward to executing on David’s directive to ‘dream big and dream bold’ as we strive to create the next generation of hit movies with the power to entertain, excite and inspire,” said Michael De Luca. “We’re grateful to Toby for the tremendous impact he has had on this studio and our industry and we’re thrilled to be able to continue to benefit from his vast experience and creativity.”

During the pair’s tenure, MGM released such hit films as Oscar-nominated “House of Gucci,” Best Picture Academy Award nominee “Licorice Pizza,” and the James Bond franchise’s Oscar-winning “No Time To Die.” Throughout his 30-year career in the film business, De Luca has been responsible for an impressive portfolio of films, including: “Reminiscence,” “Captain Phillips,” “Moneyball,” “The Social Network,” “Boogie Nights,” “Blade” and “The Mask.” He also produced the $1.3 billion grossing “Fifty Shades of Grey” franchise. He is a former president of production at both New Line Cinema and DreamWorks.

Abdy served previously as a Partner and Head of Film at Makeready, where she produced “Queen & Slim” and “A Million Little Pieces.” Prior to that, she served as President of Production at New Regency, which released the Academy Award-winning “Birdman,” “Gone Girl,” Oscar-winner “The Big Short,” and “The Revenant,” which received 12 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, and two Golden Globe awards for Best Picture (Drama) and Best Actor. Before joining New Regency, Abdy was the President of Scott Stuber’s Bluegrass Films.

De Luca and Abdy follow longtime studio executive Toby Emmerich who is stepping down as chairman of Warner Bros. Pictures Group. Emmerich has led the film studio division since 2017, previously serving as President and Chief Content Officer, and before that as President and Chief Operating Officer of New Line Cinema. He is a 30-year veteran of Warner Bros. having joined the company in 1992 as a dual development and music executive.

An accomplished screenwriter and producer, Emmerich is launching a new production company at the Warner Bros. studio, focused on film, television and streaming. As part of an exclusive 5-year agreement, Warner Bros. Discovery will finance Emmerich’s venture and have distribution rights to films and series.

Under Emmerich’s leadership, Warner Bros. Pictures Group had its most successful year ever in 2018, with a global box office of $5.57 billion. This success was fueled by a diverse lineup of hit films, including “Aquaman”—the most successful DC Superhero film ever and Warner Bros.’ second-biggest title of all time, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” “Ready Player One,” “The Meg,” “Rampage,” “A Star is Born,” “The Nun,” and “Crazy Rich Asians.” In 2019, the Studio released the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time, DC’s “Joker,” which earned $1.08 billion at the global box office and won two Academy Awards, as well as the hugely successful horror sequel “IT Chapter Two.”

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