Tom Rothman on the New TriStar and Lessons From His Hollywood Hiatus

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"I learned that there’s a certain insularity that we suffer from in this town," the new chair of TriStar tells TheWrap

Tom Rothman hasn't had a studio job for nearly a year, but the former Fox Filmed Entertainment Chairman and CEO said spending a few months outside the Hollywood echo-chamber has filled him with a renewed enthusiasm for the movie business.

It's an industry he finds himself embracing once more — thanks to a new partnership with Sony Pictures that will see him reinvigorating the TriStar brand. As part of the joint venture, Rothman will be tasked with fielding four movies a year and developing television programming. He will report to Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO and Chairman Michael Lynton and Co-Chairman Amy Pascal.

Also read: Tom Rothman, Sony Partner to Revive TriStar as Joint Production Venture

The newly minted chairman of TriStar Productions talked to TheWrap about his ambitions to transform the division into a home for great filmmakers and his belief that the movie business is still capable of producing daring and original work.

You must have had choices, why Sony Pictures? What was it about the structure of this partnership that appealed to you?
What was appealing is Amy and Michael. They are absolutely terrific executives and I've known them forever. My father always taught me most important thing was who you were in business with. Well, I trust and believe in them completely.

As for the structure, there's also the great mix of having a fair amount of independence, but also tremendous support from senior level executives.

Also read: Tom Rothman to Join Steven Spielberg on 'Robopocalypse'

Do you know what kind of pictures you will be making?
That’s easy. Hits. No, we have a strategy and I don't want to say too much about the kind of movies that we will make, but I think there are a lot of counter-programming opportunities right now. 

One thing I have learned is that when it comes to content ventures, you have to build them up. You have to be patient and you can't do things just to do them.

Why did you decide to revive the TriStar name?
This is a venerable brand with great emotional resonance. It has great equity, particularly with talent. There's a lot of great goodwill there.

In its heyday, TriStar was known as something of a filmmakers studio, working with directors like Barry Levinson, Woody Allen and Cameron Crowe. Is that a legacy you'd like to continue?
That would be great. I certainly aspire to that. I suppose one of the hallmarks of my career has been that I have managed to work with some great filmmakers and to make films that have been both creative and commercial successes.

You were at Fox for 18 years. You've been in high-powered jobs for decades. Was it hard to adjust to not going into the office every day?
It was radical. I learned a bunch of things. I actually learned that there are people walking around in the middle of the day. I learned golf is still a really hard game. I learned that there’s a certain insularity that we suffer from in this town — an inside-the-echo-chamber sense of what's happening — and that it can be really good to get outside of all that. 

I learned about myself. I learned I really love my job and and I'm lucky to be in this business and I still have tremendous affinity for it, but now I'm doing it as a matter of choice not as a matter of habit. I have a renewed, dare I say, almost youthful enthusiasm for it.

This deal allows you to develop television programming. Was that part of its attraction?
It's very exciting for me. I'm best known for film, but I did supervise 20th Century Fox Television before and I've worked in the TV industry. But it's obviously such an exciting and creative area to be in right now. 

There's a lot of feature talent that I have long-standing and good relationships with that are interested in doing both television and features, so it just adds to what we're able to offer.

Television may be going through a renaissance right now, but there has been some criticism that film is no longer the place for exciting, creative work. That its become obsessed with mindless blockbusters. Do you suffer from any of that pessimism?
I don't share it. I think there are great opportunities in this business. I think you have got to be smart and daring and original now. But I'm a person who believes that really great films will always win.

You begin in September. What are you going to do with your last month of freedom?
You got me the day before I head to Cape Cod for two weeks. They've got a fantastic drive-in theater there called the Wellfleet, so I'm going to hit that up and see everything they're showing and get psyched up to get back to work.