Long before Adam Sandler had even considered adopting a 5-year-old as the next logical step in his box office will to power, a script titled Guy Gets Kid was one of 150 projects kicking around in development at Columbia Pictures. When exec Amy Pascal decided it could be a vehicle for Adam Sandler, it became a top priority and she set out to get her man. ”I followed him around and stalked him,” says Pascal, laughing at just how absurd her fevered pursuit seems in retrospect. At one point she even attempted to sweet-talk Sandler while he was standing with his dad in front of a slot machine in Atlantic City.
Welcome to the high-stakes casino that is Pascal’s world. As the president of Columbia Pictures, the 41-year-old UCLA grad (who’s married to New York Times entertainment reporter Bernard Weinraub) is remarkably frank in a town that’s built on double-speak and populated by yes-men. And in a way, picturing her trying to land an A-list fish in Atlantic City is as concise an analogy as you can get for what she does every day — she gambles. It may not be as blind as throwing a pair of dice or tugging at a one-armed bandit. But greenlighting movies and then cobbling the talent together still amounts to risking millions of dollars on a bet whose outcome you ultimately have no clue about. ”Well, it’s an educated gamble,” she says. ”But sometimes you can think you know everything and be wrong.”
Pascal has managed to gamble pretty well during her two-plus years on the job. For starters, under the watch of Pascal and her boss, Sony Pictures Entertainment president and CEO John Calley, Columbia has risen from the dead and returned to profitability after an infamously profligate and red-ink-stained run in the early ’90s under Jon Peters and Peter Guber. By hitting moneymaking singles and doubles instead of swinging for the fences, Pascal and Calley have turned Columbia into one of Hollywood’s smoothest-operating studios.
After wagering with mixed success on last spring’s teen-movie boom and with Sandler as a safe bet this summer, Columbia will finish the rest of the year with a promising and more wide-ranging lineup: Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas in Random Hearts; Diane Keaton, Lisa Kudrow, and Meg Ryan in Hanging Up; even Gonzo and Miss Piggy in Muppets From Space. But the relative calm on Sony’s Culver City lot isn’t complete — Pascal chain-drinks black coffee as we sit down with her to dissect some of her past, present, and future gambles.
Can’t Hardly Wait
After the success of 1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer, Columbia once again banked on Party of Five star Jennifer Love Hewitt, seemingly trying to transform the actress into its own personal Molly Ringwald of the ’90s. While Pascal says the high school graduation comedy made about $15 million for the studio, she admits, ”I think that movie should have done better than it did.” Summing up why the studio bet so heavily on the teen genre in ’98, Pascal says, ”You don’t have to put $20 million movie stars in [those films]…so far those stars don’t cost that much. They will. But they don’t now…. The great thing is [that with] all those movies — nobody has a back end. You don’t have to give away any money.”