Temperatures are running high at Warner Bros. over a New York Times story scheduled for next week that suggests Legendary CEO Thomas Tull is mulling ending his relationship with the studio when his deal is up at the end of this year, TheWrap has learned.
New York Times reporters Brooks Barnes and Michael Cieply have spent weeks preparing a hard-hitting piece on Tull, examining his relationship with the studio for whom he is a critical financing partner, having produced blockbuster movies from “300” to “The Dark Knight” to “The Hangover,” among others.
TheWrap spoke with two individuals interviewed by the Times who confirmed that Tull is unhappy with his relationship with Warner's studio chief Jeff Robinov (at left: Tull with Robinov at "The Dark Knight" premiere). Tull believes, they said, that Robinov has undercut him and that Robinov has told others that the financier takes too much credit on movies.
A spokeswoman for Legendary declined to comment. A spokesman for Warner Bros. also declined to comment.
One individual close to Tull cited an incident at last year’s Comic-Con convention in San Diego in which senior Warner's executives “had steam coming out of their ears” over Tull’s being on stage to present convention fans with a clip from the upcoming Guillermo del Toro blockbuster, “Pacific Rim.”
In addition, the individual said Tull believed that Robinov had created tension between him and “Dark Knight” director Christopher Nolan. Other individuals said that Nolan and Tull's relationship was strong, despite rumors on the Warner lot to the contrary.
But an individual close to Robinov denied that the relationship was under any strain and indeed said Tull has recently assured Robinov that they are “great.”
Nonetheless, the individuals with knowledge of Tull’s plans told TheWrap that the financier has already taken meetings with rival studios to weigh his options for producing his movies elsewhere.
Tull’s deal with Warner's ends in December 2013.
He is likely to be a sought-after partner for several of the major studios. The financier has a strong relationship with Alan Horn, who now heads the Walt Disney Studios and worked with Tull at Warner's, where Horn was the studio chief until two years ago. Other studios may make more likely partners, though: Paramount needs movies for its distribution slots, as do Sony and Universal, which have regularly sought outside financing partners.
The advantage of Legendary Pictures is that the company brings its own Wall Street-based financing, and Tull is now an experienced, hands-on producer, a highly attractive combination for studios short on cash and eager for blockbuster franchises.
Ironically, the Times piece was prompted by a preemptive lawsuit he filed in January against Roy Lee and Dan Lin, two leading producers of his next blockbuster, “Godzilla,” whom he also fired off the picture.
According to individuals familiar with the article, the reporters began by taking a look at Tull’s business methods and his aggressive use of preemptive lawsuits. Doing so revealed a little-known lawsuit he filed against a former employee he accused of extorting him two years after she left the company for, according to the suit, falsely alleging an office affair. The suit was quietly settled.
Queried by TheWrap about the story, Barnes declined to comment.
With the tension suggested by TheWrap’s and apparently the Times’ reporting, it may fall to Warner's new CEO Kevin Tsujihara — who was named to the post on Monday — to iron out any issues with his company’s partner.
Said one person close to the partnership, “This is a shaky relationship that Kevin has to fix.” At last word, the Times piece is scheduled to run on Monday.