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Warner Bros. shakes up top ranks to improve performance at the box office

Ryan Faughnder

By Ryan Faughnder | Los Angeles Times

Warner Bros. Pictures’ production head Greg Silverman is stepping down in a major shakeup at the Burbank movie studio seeking to reclaim its perch as Hollywood’s dominant player.

Silverman, 44, will leave his position at the beginning of next year and start a production company on the Warner Bros. lot, the company said Wednesday.

Silverman, who has held the title of president of creative development and worldwide production since 2013, will be replaced by Toby Emmerich, who runs the studio’s successful New Line Cinema production company.

Emmerich, 53, will take on the title of president and chief content officer for Warner Bros. Pictures Group, giving him creative oversight of both New Line and Warner Bros.

The management change reflects a desire by  CEO Kevin Tsujihara to improve the performance of Warner’s movie studio, which has been inconsistent at the box office.

Though Warner Bros. has been enjoying an upswing this year with surging profits, the studio weathered a difficult box-office run in 2015, with multiple expensive flops during that slate including “Pan,” Ron Howard’s “In the Heart of the Sea,” “Jupiter Ascending” and “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”

Additionally, the studio has endured heavy criticism for its creative stewardship of its key DC Comics franchise, facing dismal reviews for this year’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad.”

Both were considered financially successful, grossing $1.6 billion combined. However, the studio likely would have made more money from the superhero epics if the quality had been higher, said a person close to the company not authorized to comment.

After the disappointing reactions to Zack Snyder’s “Batman v Superman,” Warner Bros. in May shuffled the executive team in charge of the franchise by naming Jon Berg and Geoff Johns to lead the DC Films brand under Silverman.

But ultimately, the studio brass decided it needed to make a bigger change in executive leadership to take the franchise to new heights following Christopher Nolan’s beloved “Dark Knight” series, people close to the studio said.

Warner Bros. has bet big on DC superhero movies, with  “Wonder Woman” and “Justice League” set to hit theaters next year alone, followed by multiple other movies including “Aquaman.”

The timing of Silverman’s departure is somewhat surprising, given that the studio is still having a strong year, with J.K. Rowling’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” grossing $684 million so far at the global box office. Meanwhile, some smaller-scale movies have been working for audiences and critics, including Clint Eastwood’s “Sully.”

Emmerich’s strong track record at New Line made him an ideal candidate for the job. Under Emmerich, New Line has proved to be a reliable moneymaker, generating recent hits such as the comedy “Central Intelligence” and successful horror flicks such as “Lights Out” and “The Conjuring 2.” Emmerich also has experience shepherding the blockbuster “Hobbit” trilogy, bolstering his qualifications for the top job.

“It’s a tradition to elevate someone who has proven to have creative and financial expertise with smaller films, and then shift them to more expensive, traditional studio-level responsibilities,” said Jason E. Squire, a movie business professor at the USC. “It’s an understandable management decision.”

In a statement, Tsujihara touted Emmerich’s “great relationships across the creative spectrum, from writers and producers to directors and actors. He’s also got a track record of producing hit films from all genres at every budget.”

Emmerich’s promotion is the latest move in a brisk rise to power for the industry veteran, who first joined New Line in 1992 as a development and music executive. He has served as president and chief operating officer of the production company since 2008.

He is said to be admired not only at Warner Bros. but also among executives at parent company Time Warner Inc., which is in the process of being acquired by mobile phone giant AT&T for $85.4 billion.

Silverman first joined Warner Bros. in 1997 as a junior production executive working on films such as “The Matrix,” but left for Revolution Studios. He came back in 2002 as vice president of production for Warner Bros.

Silverman’s exit, and Emmerich’s elevation, is the biggest management change at the studio since 2013, when Jeff Robinov stepped down from the top job. Robinov, who had served as president of Warner Bros. Pictures Group since 2007,  departed after he lost the coveted job as chairman of Hollywood’s largest movie and TV studio.

Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes tapped Tsujihara, a former head of digital, to succeed Barry Meyer, ending a two-year search that created turmoil at the studio. Shortly afterward, Tsujihara picked Emmerich, Silverman and marketing and distribution executive Sue Kroll as his team to lead the studio together.

The former three-way-leadership management structure — with duties shared by Emmerich, Silverman and Kroll — was seen as a way to stabilize the film unit after years of internal turmoil. But the unconventional management structure occasionally led to internal conflict and confusion about the creative direction of the studio, according to people in and outside the studio.

Emmerich’s elevation is intended to address that problem. In his new job, he will share greenlight authority with Tsujihara, ultimately determining what movies the studio decides to make.

Kroll will continue to serve as president of Worldwide Marketing and Distribution.

Warner Bros. has not yet shared details about Silverman’s new production company but hinted that it will focus on producing content, technology ventures and the studio’s growing business in China.

“Greg is a part of the Warner Bros. family, and we all look forward to working with him on this new venture that combines his passion for film, technology and China,” Tsujihara said.


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