Yesterday morning Deadline‘s Mike Fleming quoted Monuments Men director-star-cowriter George Clooney about Sony shareholder Daniel Loeb, who recently ripped into Sony honchos Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton for the tanking of After Earth and White House Down: “I’ve been reading a lot about Daniel Loeb, a hedge fund guy who describes himself as an activist but who knows nothing about our business,” Clooney began, “and he is looking to take scalps at Sony because two movies in a row underperformed? When does the clock stop and start for him at Sony?
“Why didn’t [Loeb] include Skyfall, the 007 movie that grossed a billion dollars, or Zero Dark Thirty or Django Unchained? And what about the rest of a year that includes Elysium, Captain Phillips, American Hustle and The Monuments Men? You can’t cherry-pick a small time period and point to two films that didn’t do great. It makes me crazy.
“Fortunately, this business is run by people who understand that the movie business ebbs and flows and the good news is they are ignoring his calls to spin off the entertainment assets. How any hedge fund guy can call for responsibility is beyond me, because if you look at those guys, there is no conscience at work. It is a business that is only about creating wealth [and] when they fail, they get bailed out and where nobody gets fired. A guy from a hedge fund entity is the single least qualified person to be making these kinds of judgments, and he is dangerous to our industry.”
Why is Loeb dangerous?
“[Loeb] calls himself an activist investor, and I would call him a carpetbagger, and one who is trying to spread a climate of fear that pushes studios to want to make only tent poles,” Clooney replied. “Films like Michael Clayton, Out of Sight, Good Night, And Good Luck, The Descendants and O, Brother Where Art Though?…none of these are movies studios are inclined to make. What he’s doing is scaring studios and pushing them to make decisions from a place of fear. Why is he buying stock like crazy if he’s so down on things? He’s trying to manipulate the market.
“I am no apologist for the studios, but these people know what they are doing. If you look at the industry track record, this business has made a lot of money. It creates a lot of jobs and is still one of the largest exporters in the world. To have this guy portraying it that Sony management is the bad stepchild and doesn’t know what it is doing and he’s going to fix it? That is like Walmart saying, let me fix your town, putting in their store, strangling all the small shops and getting everyone who worked in them to work for minimum wage with no health insurance.
“It’s crazy [that Loeb] has weight in this conversation at all. If guys like this are given any weight because they’ve bought stock and suddenly feel they can tell us how to do our business — one he knows nothing about — this does great damage than trickles down. The board of directors starts saying, ‘Wait a minute…what guarantee do you have that this movie makes money?’ Well, there are no guarantees, but if you average out the films Will Smith and Channing Tatum have made, you will take that bet every time, even if sometimes it just doesn’t work out.’
“Hedge fund guys do not create jobs, and we do. On the movie we just made, we put 300 people to work every day. I’m talking about nice, regular people, and when we shot in a town, we’d put another 300 people to work. This is an industry that thrives. There are thousands of workers who make films. You want to see what happens if outside forces start to scare the industry and studios just make tent poles out of fear? You will see a lot of crap coming out.”