Despite successes like "The Dark Knight Rises," "The Amazing Spider-Man," and "Marvel's The Avengers," blockbuster movies are in a bit of a rut. Stars like Shia LaBeouf have publicly shunned big-budget films, while audiences have become slightly more finicky with their dollars as well; ticket sales dropped to a 19-year low during this summer with failed reboots and re-imaginings of old brands littering the multiplex.
Since 2000, Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman Amy Pascal has watched as 83 films released by Sony have opened to number one at the American box office, including 2012 successes like "Men In Black 3," "Hotel Transylvania" and the aforementioned "Spider-Man" reboot. At the same time, Pascal has also focused on more awards-worthy fair, like "Moneyball," "The Ides of March" and "Midnight in Paris," all three of which scored Oscar nominations at the 84th annual Academy Awards.
Pascal, who has been part of the studio system since the mid-1980s, spoke with the Huffington Post about how the business has changed over the last three decades, why reboots aren't all bad, and why she's really just a movie nerd in executive's clothing.
HP: Shia LaBeouf recently said he was "done" with big budget movies and referred to them as being artless. What do you say to people who tell you there's no art in big-budget movies?
Amy Pascal: I think here we try not to separate something good from something that makes money. That's the way everybody here feels. More than ever, because of social networking and everything else, things have to be good, they have to be good if they're big, otherwise nobody will go.
What's an example of a big budget movie that wouldn't have worked without its soaring budget?
Certainly different stories need to be told on different scales. "Avatar," for example, was an incredible artistic achievement. It had a huge budget and a very personal story. There is never a time when you say, 'sacrifice making it good and just make it big.' I don't think I've ever had that that happen and I hope I never do. Anytime you make a movie, whether its "2012" or "Men in Black" or "Spider-Man" or any movie on the upper end of the scale of what movies cost, you're trying to do something good, you're always trying to do something about character.
Why do you think the world needed a reboot of the "Spider-Man" franchise?
Peter Parker is one of the great modern mythological characters, period, in fiction. He falls somewhere between Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield and Hamlet, that's how I think of Spiderman. I don't think of him as a 'reboot' or anything like that. Peter Parker is a fantastic character that questions who to be in the world, I don't think there's anything that's more relevant.
You don't see it as repeating a story you've already told?
I don't see it that way. We told the story with Sam [Raimi] of Peter and MJ and Harry and that saga was finished, and I certainly wanted to talk about Peter Parker and the real identity of Spider-Man. It's very accessible, and good for the studio.
How do you determine what property is worthy of a reboot?
I think you have to figure out what's relevant about the source material, what matters to people, regardless. It's like James Bond, it's no different than that. When the Broccollis [original producers of the Bond films] decide they're ready to make a change, and it goes from Pierce [Brosnan] to Daniel [Craig] and the pillars of the movie changed, it's the same thinking. They wanted something to be more realistic, be more grounded, it needed to feel more in the world that we're living in today. Those were the same questions they asked.
What has changed in terms of marketing a big movie to the masses? How is marketing different than it was a decade ago?
I think it's impossible to slam something into the marketplace and spend lots of money and convince a lot of people to come opening weekend, just because it's big. I don't think that's an option open to any studios anymore.
What does that mean, to "slam" it?
You know, to come up with a marketing campaign and make everyone see the movie when they don't know if it's good or bad. A lot of movies used to benefit from that. Now it has to be good for it to do well.
How important are international prospects when you decide what movies to produce? "The Smurfs," for example, wasn't a monster hit in America, but then went on to dominate overseas and ended up making a lot of money. Did you anticipate that?
We're an internationally skewed company. We were very well aware of what a big property "The Smurfs" was internationally. My partner Michael [Lynton] grew up loving The Smurfs, he's got Smurfs memorabilia all around the office, it's really hard to avoid. They are wonderful characters, and one of the things that's resonant about them is that in a world that's very cynical and grouchy, they always see the silver lining in everything. That seemed like a very accessible idea.
Also, these larger movies, specifically, family movies, they tend to do incredibly well overseas. We were really pleased. If you think of "Ice Age" or "Madagascar" or "The Smurfs," there's a huge market for family entertainment internationally.
What kinds of movies used to be easy sells that aren't anymore? What's gone from theaters?
Certain movies seem to have disappeared in last couple years, though someone will probably make a successful one and this conversation won't happen anymore, but it's probably the domestic comedies, these 'guy is a fish out of water' circumstances, which used to be these Hollywood staples. At the moment you're not seeing so many of them working in the marketplace. Unless they're family movies or R-rated movies. The most important thing, still, is who is in them, because the most important thing about a movie is the character. People still fall in love with characters. There might have been a time when you could put a big star in any movie and it would work.
What's an example of a movie you championed with a character you loved that wasn't anchored by a big star?
We did this little fantastic movie called "Easy A." And [some people] wanted a big star in that part, but we all really believed in Emma Stone, and she carried the movie, she made the movie what it was. Jonah Hill in "Moneyball." That's the same kind of thing.
Do you consider the Oscars and other awards when deciding what to green light? How much do awards matter?
We try to be in the business of making movies that are good that people go to see. Many studios are excellent at making some of these smaller, more artistic movies, and when they really work, they really work.
What about "The Social Network"? That was a Sony movie, anchored by Jesse Eisenberg, not a huge star at the time. Did you think that would win awards?
We made that not because we thought it was going be an Oscar movie, necessarily, but because we thought it would be a big movie. I had no idea how good it would be, but it was a perfect movie from the start, really, with a perfect script.
What's your favorite part of your job?
I'm such a nerd. Honestly, I'm still completely in love with writers and directors, I get terrible director crushes all the time. I love actors, I love movies, I love the math problem of it, I love people, I love sitting there trying figure out whats wrong with it, how to make it work. I love the business of that. I love when someone comes in and has a idea for something and you see it take shape all the way up to the time it comes to the theatre.
How often does that happen? That the original idea actually stays intact?
With all the good ones. The bad ones it gets screwed up.
What movie represents your favorite aspects of the job?
I really loved "Moneyball." That was a movie like "The Social Network," where a lot of it was about math, statistics, but a movie where I thought it was really the best of everything. Ultimately it was a movie about finding value in people, value in business. I think it's an important film.
What do you bring to Sony films specifically? What makes a film unique to your studio?
I think Michael and I have spent a lot of time trying to create a culture here that is not risk-averse, that is innovative, where people really talk to each other, where people really listen to each other, where people speak their mind.
What's a Sony film coming out that you think takes a risk?
I don't want to say its a risk, but it's definitely a provocative movie, and that's "Zero Dark Thirty," the Kathryn Bigelow movie about Osama Bin Laden. It's really an awesome film and she did a great job on it.