Amy Pascal to Step Down From Top Sony Post

Amid the fallout of the Sony hacking crisis, Amy Pascal will step down from her post as co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The move has been widely expected ever since the studio became engulfed in scandal following one of the worst cyberattacks in corporate history — and certainly the most embarrassing hit ever taken by a major Hollywood institution in the digital age. Pascal became the obvious target for housecleaning once President Obama fingered the North Korean government as being behind the hack. She alone was responsible for green-lighting the comedy The Interview, which is believed to have sparked the wrath of North Korea.

As often is the case with ousted studio heads, Pascal will launch a major new production venture at the studio. Pascal, whose deal was up in March, will transition to the new venture in May. As part of the deal, she will be a producer on the new Ghostbusters film as well as future Amazing Spider-Man outings (former Columbia Pictures president Matt Tolmach also segued to the role of Spider-Man producer after he exited his post).

"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. "I have always wanted to be a producer. [Sony Entertainment CEO] Michael [Lynton] and I have been talking about this transition for quite some time, and I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to pursue my long-held dream and for providing unparalleled support. As the slate for the next two years has come together, it felt like the right time to transition into this new role. I am so grateful to my team, some of whom I have worked with for the last 20 years and others who have joined more recently. I am leaving the studio in great hands. I am so proud of what we have all done together and I look forward to a whole lot more."

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Lynton sent an email this morning to staffers announcing that Pascal is exiting.

"I am happy to say that Amy's decision is not the end of her relationship with the studio but the start of a new and exciting chapter in her extraordinary career that promises to be mutually beneficial," he wrote. "She can refocus her career on her first great love — filmmaking — and SPE can continue its association with an extremely talented and valued associate. Her decision has the full support of [Sony Corp. president and CEO] Kazuo Hirai."

As part of a four-year agreement, SPE will finance Pascal's venture and retain all distribution rights worldwide to the films. She will be based on the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City.

In the two-plus months since Sony first noticed that its servers had been breached by an unknown group dubbing itself Guardians of Peace, the studio watched powerlessly as huge swaths of its most sensitive documents and correspondence were leaked on the Internet. Among the most damaging were the personal information and Social Security numbers of some 47,000 past and present staffers as well as film budgets, profitability figures and thousands of emails sent to and from Pascal.

Pascal, who also held the title of SPE Motion Picture Group chairman, is exiting the studio that she started at in 1988, rising to the top post that she shared with Lynton. Together, the pair oversaw all of SPE's lines of business, including film production, acquisition and distribution; TV production, acquisition and distribution; TV networks; digital content creation and distribution; operation of studio facilities; and development of new entertainment products, services and technologies.

As one of Hollywood's longest-serving studio heads and the industry's most prominent female executive, Pascal reigned during a time of box-office success and relative calm for the studio, which only began to experience upheaval in its upper ranks in the past year. Perhaps her biggest coup was spearheading the nearly $4 billion Spider-Man franchise, which remains the highest-grossing superhero franchise in Hollywood.

Under Pascal's leadership, SPE movies and television shows have enjoyed critical and commercial success, with 95 movies hitting No. 1 at the domestic box office, more than any other studio — a testament to her strong relationships with talent like Adam Sandler and Will Smith.

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Among the mammoth hits produced and distributed by the studio under Pascal's watch are the James Bond films Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall, the latter becoming the first Bond film to earn more than $1 billion dollars worldwide, as well as The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons.

But in recent years, Pascal also helped shed Sony's image as a studio solely interested in box-office performance and created a destination for critically acclaimed dramas like for Zero Dark Thirty, American Hustle, Moneyball and The Social Network. At the same time, the TV operations began to flourish, with the studio boasting critically acclaimed hits like Breaking Bad and The Blacklist among its stable. In 2014, SPE films received 26 Golden Globe nominations and won seven awards, more than any other studio.

"Amy's creativity, drive and bold choices helped define SPE as a studio where talented individuals could take chances and push boundaries in order to deliver outstanding entertainment," Lynton said. "The studio's legacy is due in large part to Amy's passion for storytelling and love of this industry. I am delighted that Amy will be continuing her association with SPE through this new venture, which capitalizes on her extraordinary talents. In recent months, SPE faced some unprecedented challenges, and I am grateful for Amy's resilience and grace during this period. Amy has been a great partner to me in heading the studio and I am looking forward to a continued close working relationship with her in her new role on the lot."

Added Hirai: "Amy has had a truly extraordinary career. In her years at Sony Pictures, Amy worked with some of the best talent in the film industry to create many of our studio's most beloved and successful films. I want to thank her for her years of dedication and I am pleased that she will continue to work closely with SPE in her new venture."

But even before the crippling hack, Pascal's grip had begun to weaken as the studio weathered one of the worst years for any major in 2013 with a string of expensive flops including After Earth and White House Down. Even 2014's Spider-Man outing began to show cracks, earning just north of $700 million worldwide for a franchise accustomed to $800-plus million hauls. She also became the target of activist Sony Corp. investor Daniel Loeb, who publicly lambasted the studio and pushed for the parent company to spin off its entertainment division. Sony Corp. brass stuck by Pascal, and Loeb eventually sold off his share of the company.

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For nearly three decades, minus a two-year stint at Turner Pictures in the mid-1990s, Pascal has put her stamp on the Sony slate, shepherding such films as Hitch, Groundhog Day, Little Women, Awakenings and A League of Their Own.

Pascal says she got her first industry job — working as a secretary answering phones for the legendary BBC producer Tony Garnett —after answering an ad in The Hollywood Reporter. Early in her career, she worked under Scott Rudin at 20th Century Fox. Ironically, it was a nasty email exchange between Pascal and Rudin that was leaked by the hackers on Dec. 8 and posted on Gawker a day later that may have been the final straw for Pascal. That raw exchange — which covered everything from a Steve Jobs biopic that failed to get off the ground and was eventually jettisoned to Universal Pictures, to unflattering comments about Angelina Jolie and Michael Fassbender — was followed on Dec. 10 by more leaked emails between the two that appeared to mock black movies. It all proved to be just too much candor in a town that likes to keep its machinations well behind the scenes.


Twitter: @TatianaSiegel27