Following a recent tradition of promoting from within, Fox Filmed Entertainment has named two joint successors to studio chairman Bill Mechanic - former president of 20th Century Fox Film Group Tom Rothman and former president of 20th Century Fox International Jim Gianopulos. The appointments were made by Peter Chernin, president and COO of Fox's parent group News Corp and Fox Entertainment Group.
The two executives will run the company with equal responsibilities. Rothman will not be replaced in the short term on the grounds that each of the studio production labels already has executives at their heads - Hutch Parker at TCF, Elizabeth Gabler at Fox 2000, Peter Rice at Fox Searchlight and Sanford Panitch at Fox-based co-financing partner New Regency. Gianopulos said that he is confident at the way the international department runs today and that the "first and primary discussions" about his replacement would be with existing senior executives such as executive vice president of international marketing Scott Neeson and executive vice president of distribution and sales Julian Levin.
The appointments had been expected internally and were met warmly by Fox staff, although there was speculation as to the future roles of domestic distribution chief Tom Sherak and marketing chief Bob Harper, both of whom had been mentioned as possible successors to Mechanic.
How the Rothman-Gianopulos partnership will work in practice is to be seen although Rothman was quick to dismiss the notion that he would handle production and Gianopulos would handle business. "We come from different backgrounds but you don't do what we've done this long without dealing with the intersection of the creative and business sides. Jim tackled a lot of creative issues in his work and I tackled a lot of business issues in mine. We do have areas of concentration which we'll clearly bring to bear but we will collaborate on all significant issues which face the company."
Gianopulos talked of the challenges facing the duo namely the transition to digital and the changing economics of the business. He said that Fox would maintain its policy of maintaining worldwide rights to its pictures, although there would be instances when they would seek equity investment or cofinancing arrangements. "We want to maintain the quality of our international distribution and not diminish that by laying off rights. However we have good relationships with Lucasfilm and MGM, for example, which will see the next Star Wars and Bond films open for us in 2002."
Rothman added that the key to succeeding was "for Jim and I to work towards maintaining a larger vision for the company and the future. We must try to have a larger perspective on the changes that are coming."
Mechanic had abruptly resigned from the studio last month after clashing with Chernin and News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch. The studio had suffered a run of domestic failures (although all international achievers) including Anna And The King, Fight Club and The Beach, while animated sci-fi picture Titan AE had just tanked spectacularly. Ironically since Mechanic's departure, Fox enjoyed the third biggest opening of all time with X-Men and looks set to enjoy another $100m hit with What Lies Beneath, a co-production with DreamWorks SKG on which it will handle international rights. Mechanic said that he was looking either to set up an independent production company along the lines of Joe Roth's Revolution Studios or to take another chief executive role at a Hollywood studio.
Gianopulos held positions at Carolco, Paramount Pictures and RCA/Columbia Pictures International Video before joining Fox as president of international and pay television. He is credited with building the studio's international theatrical operations as president of Fox International, enjoying such hits as Titanic, which grossed $1.2bn overseas, Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace, which grossed $493m overseas, and Independence Day, which took $505m internationally.
Rothman joined Fox as the first president of Fox Searchlight, after holding positions at The Samuel Goldwyn Co and Columbia Pictures. After Searchlight, he was promoted to president of production for 20th Century Fox and then to president of 20th Century Fox Film Group, overseeing the TCF and Fox 2000 divisions.