Amy Pascal Leaving as Sony Studio Chief

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http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/06/business/amy-pascal-leaving-as-sony-studio-chief.html?_r=0

LOS ANGELES — Amy Pascal, whose passion for stars and story made her one of the last of Hollywood’s old-style studio chiefs, has resigned as co-chairwoman of Sony Pictures Entertainment and as chairwoman of Sony’s motion picture group.

Sony announced the move on Thursday. It followed Ms. Pascal’s rough ride through an online attack against the studio that exposed emails in which she made denigrating remarks about President Obama’s presumed movie-viewing habits — disclosures that prompted profuse apologies from her.

Ms. Pascal had been in contract renewal talks for months. She decided instead to accept a four-year production deal that most likely will involve her making some of Sony’s biggest planned films.

The studio said Ms. Pascal would leave her position in May and did not name a successor. For the moment, her resignation consolidates power over Sony’s film operation under the Sony Pictures chief executive, Michael Lynton.

Ms. Pascal, often cited as the film industry’s top female executive, had been with Sony continuously since 1996, when she became president of its Columbia Pictures unit after serving as production president of Turner Pictures. Before joining Turner, she had worked at Sony since 1988.

“I have spent almost my entire professional life at Sony Pictures, and I am energized to be starting this new chapter based at the company I call home,” she said in a statement. Details of her new production venture were not disclosed.

Ms. Pascal’s support for the provocative comedy “The Interview,” which lampooned the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, turned to a monthslong blazing controversy last year after Sony, based in Japan, was the target of a hacking attack.

North Korea was identified by the United States government as having precipitated the devastating attack on Sony and its employees, exposing the staff to humiliation and financial risk, and putting Ms. Pascal’s own dealings in the spotlight for weeks.

While top studio managers stood behind her, the pressures apparently made alternatives to renewal more attractive.

In a drive to enhance profitability at Sony Pictures, one of Hollywood’s largest studios, Mr. Lynton has been cutting staff and shuffling executives. His moves have stacked up possible candidates for Ms. Pascal’s job. He recently promoted Douglas Belgrad to the presidency of Sony’s film operation; in effect giving him a lieutenant with film expertise, should he choose to supervise filmmaking without Ms. Pascal.

He also bolstered Mr. Belgrad with a seasoned adjunct of his own, the former DreamWorks executive Michael De Luca, and with production deals that put Thomas E. Rothman, former chief executive of Fox Filmed Entertainment, in charge of the TriStar division, and the former Warner studio chief Jeff Robinov in place as a producer with substantial outside funding.

All of that squeezed Ms. Pascal, who for years had governed Sony’s film unit without serious challenge. At the same time, she was pressed by strategic changes that came with the retirement of a supporter, Howard Stringer, as the chief executive of Sony. With Mr. Stringer’s exit, the studio tightened costs and looked to focus more heavily on the franchise and fantasy films that have sustained competitors like Warner and Disney.

Ms. Pascal’s tenure brought a flood of ambitious and inventive movies that traded on relationships with stars and filmmakers like Will Smith, Adam McKay and Adam Sandler. When those stars and moviemakers were hot, so was Ms. Pascal.

In 2006, Sony topped the domestic box office, as Mr. Sandler hit with “Click,” Mr. McKay with “Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” and Mr. Smith with “The Pursuit of Happyness.”

In 2012, Sony was on top again, with matching blockbusters from its two principal film franchises: “The Amazing Spider-Man,” which revamped the Spider-Man series, and “Skyfall,” from a James Bond series that it shared with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

But Sony faltered when Ms. Pascal’s favorites slipped. In 2013, the studio ranked fourth at the domestic box office, and suffered a particular embarrassment as Mr. Smith, the most reliable star in its stable, took in just $60.5 million in domestic ticket sales with “After Earth,” an expensive sci-fi thriller.

Last year was again wobbly, thanks to the relatively soft performance of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” which took in $202 million at the domestic box office, but underperformed its predecessors.
 
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