Sony’s former studio boss Amy Pascal turns film producer with works like Spider-Man: Homecoming

Having reinvented herself as a producer through her company Pascal Pictures, Ms Amy Pascal (left) is working on several projects, including Steven Spielberg's next film, a Nixon-era newspaper drama called The Papers.
Having reinvented herself as a producer through her company Pascal Pictures, Ms Amy Pascal (left) is working on several projects, including Steven Spielberg's next film, a Nixon-era newspaper drama called The Papers.PHOTO: NYTIMES

LOS ANGELES (NYTIMES) - After 18 years at Sony Pictures, the last 11 as studio boss, Ms Amy Pascal had her life blown apart.

First came the 2014 cyberattack that ravaged Sony. Her private e-mails were stolen, published online and picked apart by the media.

Aired were her candid assessments of star behaviour (Leonardo DiCaprio, "despicable").

Then, in February 2015, Sony ousted her - not over the embarrassing e-mail messages, but because her movie operation had failed to keep pace with an entertainment industry shift towards franchise films.

"When you are the head of a studio, you are smart, fabulous, funny and good-looking," Ms Pascal said last month from her Brentwood living room.

Getting fired is bruising, no matter how big the gig, but it packs an extra punch in Hollywood, a realm where power is assessed second by second.

To make Ms Pascal's situation worse, her mother and father died in quick succession not long afterwards.

Now comes the plot twist.

It has been a challenge to be patient and allow myself to learn, especially at this ripe age.

MS AMY PASCAL, 59, on becoming a producer

Ms Pascal, a 59-year-old in an industry rife with sexism and ageism, seems to have emerged stronger and happier, having reinvented herself as a producer through her company, Pascal Pictures.

She will deliver three films to three studios this year, with over a dozen more on the assembly line.

On a personal level, after a lot of soul-searching, some in a therapist's office, she has tried to see the hacking as freeing. After all, she has no more secrets.

But there is no doubt that she has regained her professional footing after her final years at Sony, when she found hits such as 22 Jump Street (2014) and American Hustle (2013), but also backed bombs such as After Earth (2013), White House Down (2013) and How Do You Know (2010).

Ms Pascal was a force behind Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), which arrived in blockbuster fashion last Friday from Sony.

She and Mr Scott Rudin produced Molly's Game, a movie set in the world of underground poker that is Aaron Sorkin's directing debut and will roll out on Nov 22, the heart of Oscar season.

She is also producing Steven Spielberg's next film, a Nixon-era newspaper drama called The Papers, which is already white-hot as an Oscar contender, in part because of United States President Donald Trump's war with the news media. Starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, it will be released on Dec 22.

Ms Pascal thinks she has finally cracked Barbie as a live-action comedy. Negotiations are under way with an Oscar-winning actress for the title role.

Pascal Pictures is also working on a Spider-Man spin-off called Silver & Black, about two female characters, Silver Sable and Black Cat; an adaptation of the hacker novel The Girl In The Spider's Web; and a drama based on Blood In The Water, a Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the 1971 Attica prison uprising.

"Amy has an extremely sharp film mind, but it's really her passionate advocacy for scripts and for talent that will make her, I believe, one of the best producers this business has ever seen," said Mr Thomas Rothman, who succeeded her as Sony's movie chairman.

Without question, Ms Pascal got a running start as a producer.

Her Sony exit package, worth as much as US$40 million (S$55 million) over four years, gave her dibs on some of the studio's biggest projects, including Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Sony also pays Pascal Pictures an additional US$9 million annually for overhead costs and discretionary script acquisition - the kind of rich deal that has largely vanished in a cost-conscious Hollywood.

Even so, the transition from studio mogul to producer is one of the most difficult pivots in show business. Producing requires hustle in a way that running a studio does not.

"It has been a challenge to be patient and allow myself to learn, especially at this ripe age," Ms Pascal admitted.

Still, she is grateful that she has another stab at Hollywood. "I loved that job," she said of running Sony. "I never wanted to let it go. I loved it so much, to be honest, that I didn't allow myself to believe that the movie business had moved on. But it had moved."

She smiled and added: "And, now, so have I."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2017, with the headline 'New lease of life after sacking'. Print Edition | Subscribe