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Quake, Battle, and Roil

Recent studio shake-ups have rocked some of Hollywood’s loftiest careers

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They didn’t register on the seismographs at Cal Tech, but over the past several weeks Hollywood has been rocked by an unprecedented series of Big Ones. The damage has been tremendous: Millions of dollars in salaries and bonuses have been lost, production plans torn apart, careers crushed beyond recognition. As the victims begin to dig their egos out of the twisted rubble, questions arise. Who will rebuild? At what cost? And what will the aftershocks bring? Here’s what’s shaking.

Sony Pictures
*Richter scale: 7.2 *Fault lines: News that Sony’s chairman and CEO, Peter Guber, 52, was stepping down came within months of Sony’s renewal of his contract. (”I changed my mind,” he explains.) Officially, Guber is leaving to start his own company, but word on the lot is that Sony wanted to retire the Batman producer because of his lavish spending (he poured $100 million into renovating the studio) and less than dazzling record at the box office. *Damage report: Losses are very, very steep. Sony has reportedly sunk $5 billion into the studio since it purchased Columbia and TriStar in 1989 — including $500 million just to buy Guber and former producing partner Jon Peters out of their contract with Warner Bros. And there aren’t many hits to show for it: Columbia’s recent crop of losers includes Geronimo, North, and I’ll Do Anything. *Casualties: Columbia TriStar head Mark Canton is the big question mark; now that his boss is gone, the man responsible for Last Action Hero may be out of luck. ”Mark Canton happens to be a terrific person at certain things,” says one famous megaproducer familiar with the studio. ”But he’s no Irving Thalberg.” *Rebuilding team: Alan J. Levine, president and COO, has taken charge of the studio, but he’s not exactly a hands-on creative type (around Sony water coolers, they call him ”the invisible man”). So Guber’s movie-mogul mantle may fall to Jeff Sagansky, the former CBS Entertainment chief hired as executive vice president of Sony Corp. just over one month ago — a position apparently so powerful that few people actually know what he does. ”I can’t describe Jeff’s job,” says Columbia TriStar president of worldwide marketing Sid Ganis. ”Troubleshooter is too narrow. It’s more expansive. It’s into new areas.” One of those new areas could turn out to be running Sony Pictures. *Aftershocks: Grosses for such upcoming Columbia TriStar efforts as First Knight, Frankenstein, and Mary Reilly could determine not only who stays and who goes, but whether Sony gives up on Hollywood. ”It’s something about that piece of real estate,” another industry insider says of the studio. ”It’s the Amityville Horror of lots.”

*Richter scale: 6.4 *Fault lines: Inside Disney, the news on Aug. 24 that Jeffrey Katzenberg was leaving had roughly the same shock value as Mickey Mouse’s dissing Walt on Oprah would. In his decade as head of Disney’s movie division under CEO Michael Eisner, Katzenberg helped bring Disney revenues from $1.5 billion to $8.5 billion yearly. Though his live-action productions often bombed (for every Pretty Woman, there was a truckload of Newsies), he reinvigorated the animation division with hits like Aladdin and The Lion King, while adding class by buying Miramax Films. But his tussle with Eisner over the No. 2 spot — Katzenberg wanted it; Eisner balked — proved that even a family-oriented studio can turn dysfunctional. *Damage report: Okay, so morale isn’t exactly lofty. ”Everyone feels lost,” says one studio producer. ”The current badge of honor around Disney is how many (job) offers you have.” *Casualties: The body count will soar as movies careen into turnaround. Katzenberg had been planning to sausage-link flicks at the dangerously schlocky rate of 60 per year. That’s been abandoned. *Rebuilding team: Eisner wasted no time in anointing former Twentieth Century Fox movie chief Joe Roth (whose mixed record as a Disney producer includes Angie and Angels in the Outfield) as the new head of the film division. Look for him to slow production and rebuild relationships with A-list actors and directors damaged during the tightfisted, micromanaged Katzenberg-Eisner decade. ”I think Disney’s going to be more talent-friendly,” says director-producer Allen Hughes (Menace II Society), who will make his next film, Dead Presidents, for the studio. ”Everyone knows their reputation [for] being cheap and treating talent like s—. They’ve been trying to clean up.” *Aftershocks: The big question is where Katzenberg will land. With Barry Diller or David Geffen? At Sony, Orion, or the helm of a new company? ”What really worries me,” says a Disney vet, ”is Jeffrey as a competitor.”