Steve Asbell Tapped to Succeed Emma Watts at Disney’s 20th Century Studios

Disney also named Vanessa Morrison president of the motion picture streaming production

Last Updated: March 12, 2020 @ 12:50 PM

Disney has finally found a successor to lead 20th Century Studios, tapping 18-year vet Steve Asbell, according to an individual familiar with the leadership change.

Asbell’s appointment comes after former head of the studio Emma Watts stepped down in February. He’ll take over as president of production for 20th Century Studios, reporting to Walt Disney Studios Co-Chairman and Chief Creative Officer Alan Horn and Co-Chairman Alan Bergman.

Watts, who spent two decades at Fox, left the studio after Disney acquired the TV and film entertainment assets from Fox last March for $71.3 billion.

An individual familiar with Watts’ thinking told TheWrap at the time that the executive wasn’t forced out or asked to leave, but instead realized that the culture and focus at Disney was different and that the job she was promised, wasn’t exactly what she thought it would be, or what she wanted.

Asbell, a well-regarded executive in the industry, previously served as executive vice president of production at 20th Century Studios (previously 20th Century Fox) since 2012 and has been with the studio since 2002.

He’s worked with the likes of James Mangold on “The Wolverine,” “Logan,” and “Ford v Ferrari,” and Ridley Scott, with whom he worked on “The Martian” and his upcoming film “The Last Duel.”

Disney’s leadership changes on Thursday are part of an alignment of a few production functions across the two studios (for both theatrical and streaming content), which the company hopes will enable greater coordination for the bulk of Disney’s live-action productions, including support for Searchlight Pictures.

Disney also named Vanessa Morrison as the studio’s new president of motion picture streaming production. Morrison will oversee development and production of Disney+ film content from Disney for both Disney Live Action and 20th Century Studios. She will report to Disney president of production Sean Bailey.

Disney+ got off to a solid start after launching in November, amassing nearly 29 million subscribers as of Feb. 2.

Morrison most recently served as president of Fox Family, following a decade-long stint as president of Fox Animation.

As part of the leadership shifts, Philip Steuer will lead physical and post-production and VFX as president of production and Disney and Randi Hiller will lead casting as executive vice president of casting – overseeing these functions for both Disney Live Action and 20th Century Studios.

Steuer was named executive vice president of physical production for Disney in 2015, after joining Disney in 2014 as senior vice president of physical production. Hiller has led casting Disney since 2011, prior to which she was an independent casting director. Steuer and Hiller will report to Asbell and Bailey.

Deadline first reported the news.

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