It used to be that movie stars would shun TV, the small screen, but that could be path for Jim Gianopulos to resurrect one of Hollywood’s most venerable studios, Paramount, that threatens to become like one of the old movie palaces of yesteryear faded into oblivion.
The Brooklyn-born Greek-American entertainment businessman, who was part of a team at Fox that brought blockbuster revenues to movies they produced, is almost two years into an attempt to save Paramount, which made classics such as The Godfather and Chinatown, but has struggled after a disastrous management by Viacom, which is joining in helping him.
If so, the turnaround could be the stuff of movies, the ultimate insider look at a movie within-a-movie about Gianopulos hoping to use original TV series such as Jack Ryan and the Alienist, on streaming services like Amazon and TNT, to provide a money stream to bankroll blockbuster global audience films, rolling the dice twice at once.
“I knew it was challenged,” Gianopulos, a veteran film executive who took over as Paramount’s Chairman in 2017 told The New York Times as it featured the comeback role. “I didn’t know how much,” he added.
He has the savvy to get it done and, he said, the right strategy in a digital age of streaming movies and TV shows and social media that blindsided Viacom when it won a battle in 1993 to acquire the studio, the symbol of old-time Hollywood.
Gianopulos started his career by working at Paramount and Lorimar. He then worked in the International Distribution department of Fox Filmed Entertainment with an insider’s knowledge of international distribution, video and pay TV.
But Paramount is fighting for its very survival after having watch the future fly by while looking backward through dusty-colored glasses and missing what was coming in entertainment, services such as Netflix, Hulu, and on the horizon, Apple’s multi-billion dollar TV and movie offerings and Facebook jumping into the game.
It is TV production that provides much of the money for the big films to be made and Gianopulos hopes to put the two together to get Paramount back in the game before the studio finds itself watching The End.
THE BIG UNEASY
The studio lost $900 million between 2016-18, part of that period under his command even as he moved boldly to chart a return after Viacom moved the TV arm of Paramount to CBS, cutting off a key source of money.
At least 495 original scripted programs aired in 2018, up from 288 in 2012, the result of new buyers like Netflix and Hulu, the report said, driving Gianopulos and a key partner, Nicole Clemens to rebuild the studio’s TV operation, hoping the small screen – if now on computers and even on cell phones – will bring revenues to produce the kind of films that make even money in places like China and India, with bigger audiences.
Gianopulos said he hoped to have 20 series in production by the end of the year. Viacom said Paramount Television generated $400 million in revenue last year, a figure he said is expected to double in 2019.
He’s building a group of veterans with not just experience but who are working together instead of the kind of internecine warfare usually seen at studios where jockeying for power and prestige can get in the way of production.
“It sounds trite, but you are only as good as your team,” Mr. Gianopulos said. “And all of the key people that I have brought in are accomplished, experienced executives.” He told the Times of the new hires: “None of them are screamers. None of them are hyperbolic. They’re all grown-ups. They’re all collaborative.”
THE A-LIST TEAM
That includes respected producer Wyck Godfrey of the Twilight series who told the paper that, “This place had become very fear-based, and so my first job was to try and change that. I’ve said to anyone who will listen, ‘We are going to start taking real chances on things we believe in.’ I will take the responsibility, the heat, when we miss, which is inevitable. But just go for it.
“We have to make more movies and also movies that stand the test of time,” he continued. “We have no choice. It’s the only way,” he said, so the studio hopes to make 17 movies in 2020 and is thinking bid, with a Top Gun sequel and eyes on international audiences.
Mission: Impossible — Fallout got great reviews and brought in $791 million in global ticket sales and, along with a quiet hit, A Quiet Place, brought losses down from $280 million in 2016 to $39 million in 2018, but Gianopulos expects a return to profitability in 2019, which sounds like a movie itself. “In a four-quarter game,” he said, “we’re halfway through the second quarter.”
So what’s left in his game? Rocketman, a musical about Elton John’s and career, arrives from the studio in May on the heels of the giant success of Bohemian Rhapsody – not from Paramount – but the mercurial story of rock singer Freddy Mercury of Queen that proved a box office hit despite mixed reviews.
Paramount is also bringing out director Ang Lee’s Gemini Man, starring Will Smith as an aging hit man who must fight a clone of his younger self, and Gianopulos has kept big bucks producers who were going to bolt and, unlike his predecessors who missed the boat on streaming services, is going to provide Netflix with a handful of original movies annually.
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