What’s Behind the Exit of Production Execs From 20th Century Fox?

Exclusive: Seven execs will have left the company in less than two years amid complaints of a stifling corporate culture

Last Updated: November 4, 2011 @ 9:44 PM

EXCLUSIVE

Twentieth Century Fox has been shedding production executives at a rapid clip – five in the past two years, with another two about to jump ship, TheWrap has learned.

>>Vice President of Production Steven Puri (right) is poised to leave in December when his contract is up, according to two knowledgeable individuals.

>> Vice President of Production Drew Crevello (below) is on sabbatical, but isn't expected to return anytime soon, if at all, according to knowledgeable individuals.

>> John Fox, another vice president of production, left last April to run production at Davis Entertainment, a production company with a deal at the studio.

All told, Fox’s lean production department reporting to President of Production Emma Watts will soon have lost seven people in less than two years, many of whom have been replaced.

Also read: Play It Again, Fox: Stuck on Sequels, Remakes & Reboots

What’s behind the executive flight?

TheWrap spoke to multiple former executives who said that with fewer films being made, an over-emphasis on sequels and reboots and relentless penny-pinching, Fox has become a less appealing workplace.

The turnover coincides with Watts' elevation to her current role in 2009. But while Watts is known as a tough boss, former executives say that the problems have more to do with studio culture than the person running the division.

“The reward just doesn’t justify the sacrifice,” said one disgruntled former executive. “It’s the worst-paying studio in Hollywood, but it’s not the money. There’s no acknowledgement of the really hard work that goes into making a movie."

Also read: Fox, James Cameron Announce 'Avatar 2,' 'Avatar 3'

Fox is well-known as one of the most cost-conscious studios in Hollywood, a quality that longtime co-chairmen Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman generally wear as a badge of honor. But former executives said that all the penny-pinching makes their jobs drawing top talent and projects to the studio that much harder.

Puri declined to comment. Crevello and Fox did not respond to requests for comment. 

A Fox spokesman declined to comment for this story. But one executive denied that Fox is a place where it is difficult to advance — noting the appointment of Watts (right), who climbed the ranks — and said that the studio's upcoming slate bets heavily on original material from the likes of Ang Lee and Curtis Hanson.

Fox Searchlight continues to make and acquire edgy fare such as this fall's sex-addiction drama, "Shame." And similar criticism is not associated with the Fox 2000 division.

Still, all this Fox turnover comes at a time when the studio is mired in last place among the six major studios at the domestic box office. Despite hits such as “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “X-Men: First Class,” Fox has earned $799.6 million this year.

Duds such as “Glee: The 3D Concert Movie” and “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” have left the studio lagging behind the competition. Even much-maligned Universal has earned more than Fox this year — $960 million domestically.

Upcoming films include "We Bought a Zoo" by writer-director Cameron Crowe and "Prometheus," next summer's Ridley Scott science-fiction film — but they are exceptions in a slate that many describe as tending toward the generic. "Avatar 2" and "Avatar 3" are coming, but not until 2014 and 2015, respectively. 

Former Fox executives say that it is difficult to lure top-flight talent to the studio. While Sony and Warner Bros. routinely snag A-list producers and directors such as Scott Rudin and Christopher Nolan, Fox has struggled to build itself into a haven for creative types.

On the production front, with all these positions left open, Watts has reached out to executives at Disney, Bad Robot, Original, Rough House, di Bonaventura Pictures and Film Rights. So far no one has taken the empty positions.

The department consists of eight junior and senior executives including Watts, although some of the departures include creative executives.

It hasn't just been production executives that have been leaving. Among those on the development side who have parted ways with the studio are several junior and creative executives. Among those who have left are Jenny Marchick, currently at Sony Pictures Animation’s development department, Joe Lewis, who is launching a cloud-based TV company Bark Industries, Adrianna Ambritz, currently a development executive at Global Produce, and Kyle Franke, the new head of development at XYZ Films.

Editors note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that Puri was the third longest tenured member of the production department.

The essential source
for entertainment insiders

Sign up for your
FREE TRIAL!