For 20 years, Amy Pascal led Sony Pictures into battle, be it at the box office, in studio bidding wars, or with North Korea, which launched a cyberattack on her studio that forever changed how business is done in Hollywood. And now, after leading the studio to an Oscar win earlier this year for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Pascal is walking away from her longtime home at Sony to sign a first-look deal with Universal Pictures.
As far as I’m concerned, the addition of Pascal Pictures on the Burbank lot is a coup for Universal, as I’ve always admired Pascal’s taste, and she has successfully made the jump to producer after her time as the head of Sony had, understandably, run its course. It was Pascal who jumped on Liz Hannah‘s spec script The Post and fashioned it into the Oscar-nominated drama that lured Steven Spielberg and eventually starred legends Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.
Pascal and her company entered a first-look deal with Sony in June 2015 after she left her post as the head of the studio. Her contract is up this summer, and she has long felt a kinship with Universal’s Donna Langley, with whom she competed for so long. The two of them chased the rights to Fifty Shades of Grey, and while Langley won that lucrative round, Pascal has plenty of her own career highlights during her time at Sony, including the first $100 million opening weekend in box office history with the original Spider-Man, the resurrection of the James Bond franchise, and David Fincher‘s The Social Network, which will be remembered as one of the best films of the decade. She also outlasted numerous studio chiefs, which is no easy feat given the executive churn in the film business.
Of course, these days, Pascal is best known as the producer of the Spider-Man movies, from Homecoming and its upcoming sequel Far From Home, to the Venom movie, the animated Spider-Verse feature, and Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s Spider-Verse spinoff for television. She’s also a producer on Greta Gerwig‘s Little Women, which is expected to be a major awards contender. Pascal’s longtime exec Rachel O’Connor will make the jump with her to Universal.
Pascal will also serve as another valuable voice on the Universal lot at a time when companies like Netflix and Disney are gobbling up top execs. In a statement, Pascal said she admired Langley’s vision for the studio and its commitment to diversity, while Langley said she valued Pascal’s “expertise, passion and sensibility,” as well as her industry relationships. Universal’s Peter Cramer said he believes she’ll be “an important contributor to our slate in the years to come.”
It’s understood that in the wake of the hack and the personal embarrassment it caused Pascal, whose private emails were made public, she received something of a golden parachute upon exiting her chairman post, including a sizable discretionary fund. It made sense at the time, given her history at the studio, but those kinds of sweetheart deals are rarely renewed, and even if Sony wanted to keep her — no one has said otherwise — I can understand not only why she’d want to move on, but why she was ready to move on. Over the last four years, Pascal has established herself as a producer — not all studio heads are so fortunate — and now she’s ready for a change of scenery. She’ll still have plenty of meetings on the Culver City lot as a producer on those Spider-Man movies and Sony’s Little Women, so it’s not like the studio valet has parked her car for the last time. In some sick way, the fallout surrounding The Interview may be the best thing to ever happen to Pascal, in the long run, despite the fact that she has called it “the most horrific moment of my life” and one that she “wouldn’t wish… on my worst enemy.” Deadline, predictably, broke the Pascal news.
Meanwhile, first-look deals seem to be on the uprise of late, as studios and streamers compete for top talent. Elsewhere on Wednesday, Long Shot director Jonathan Levine signed a first-look deal with Lionsgate, while Regina King signed a first-look deal with Netflix, where she won an Emmy for starring on Seven Seconds.
Prior to Long Shot, Levine worked with Lionsgate’s Nathan Kahane and Joe Drake on 50/50 and The Night Before, so he felt comfortable bringing his production company Megamix to the studio, where he’ll be joined by his producing partner Gillian Bohrer — who also happens to be a former Lionsgate executive. Lionsgate also released Levine’s 2013 zom-rom-com Warm Bodies, which is how Levine and Bohrer first met. Megamix is already working with Lionsgate Television to develop a series based on the hit movie, which grossed over $115 million worldwide. Joining Levine and Bohrer at the company will be creative executive McAuley Cahill, who arrives from Fox 2000. In addition to his well-known Seth Rogen comedies, I’m a big fan of Levine’s early films All The Boys Love Mandy Lane and The Wackness. He’s a smart addition to Lionsgate’s roster of filmmakers.
It’s also wise of Netflix to hang on to King following her Oscar and Emmy wins for If Beale Street Could Talk and Seven Seconds, respectively. She’ll produce films and series under her Royal Ties (get it?) banner, and her sister, Reina King, will serve as the company’s head of production.
King has also directed episodes of This Is Us, The Good Doctor, and the season three finale of Insecure on HBO, where she’ll soon be seen in Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen. Netflix boss Ted Sarandos called King “a trailblazer… with boundless creativity and impeccable taste,” and King, for her part, said she’s “so excited to come play in this wonderful sandbox they have created for storytellers.”
I wish Pascal, Levine and King the best of luck at their new producing homes and look forward to the projects that make their way to screens both big and small.