Amy Pascal, an old-style studio chief who was undercut by new Hollywood economics and bruised by the airing of private emails in a devastating cyberattack, said on Thursday that she would resign her post as the top film executive at Sony Pictures Entertainment.
Pascal had been in contract renewal talks for months, well before hackers in December made available private correspondence in which she made denigrating remarks about US President Barack Obama’s presumed preference for black-themed movies.
She profusely apologised, and top studio executives stood behind her in the aftermath. But the pressures of the hacking crisis, coupled with structural changes at the studio, made alternatives to renewing her contract more attractive.
She will leave her positions as co-chairwoman of Sony Pictures Entertainment and chairwoman of Sony’s motion picture group in May, the studio said, and accept a four-year production deal that will involve her making some of Sony’s biggest planned films.
For the moment, her resignation consolidates power over Sony’s film operation under Michael Lynton, chief executive of Sony Entertainment. He is expected to decide in the next few months whether any successor will precisely match Pascal’s role, or will function differently at a studio that has been cutting costs and shifting focus toward both television and global crowd pleasers driven by special effects.
She was neither pushed to leave nor begged to stay, and Pascal’s decision to move on crystallised over the last two weeks, said people briefed on the matter, as Sony offered the producing deal as an option. She also came to a realisation, perhaps long overdue, that her romantic notion of the movie industry — built around stars and stories — no longer fit with new realities.
Pascal also went through a draining month of turmoil within Sony as studio leaders struggled to cope with a hacking that crippled the company’s computers and exposed personal data about its employees. Known to be a fiery counterpart to the more reserved Lynton, Pascal was particularly distressed by the assault, exhibiting both anger and tearful regret before Sony employees.
Often identified as the film industry’s top female executive, Pascal is the only senior Sony manager to leave her position since the hacking attack.
Though she received a lucrative and prestigious next job, her departure may invite further scrutiny of an industry often criticised for a dearth of women in leading positions.
Pascal, 56, has been with Sony since 1996, when she became president of its Columbia Pictures unit after serving as production president of Turner Pictures. Before joining Turner, she had worked at Sony since 1988.
“I have spent almost my entire professional life at Sony Pictures, and I am energised to be starting this new chapter based at the company I call home,” she said in a statement. Lynton and Pascal declined to elaborate on the announcement.
Stephen Ujlaki, dean of the film school at Loyola Marymount University, noted Pascal had proved herself a nimble survivor over the years. “She did a great pivot early on,” he said, adding that Pascal had once focused on women’s films but turned sharply toward popular hits like the “Spider-Man” series as she chased bigger audiences.
While some details are unclear, the broad terms of her new deal are breathtaking. Several people briefed on Pascal’s exit said it involved a four-year guarantee of $30 million to $40 million. Her package additionally includes a percentage of profits on movies she produces and millions of dollars for annual office costs and discretionary acquisition of scripts.
In a drive to enhance profitability, Lynton has been cutting staff and shuffling executives, squeezing Pascal, who for years had governed Sony’s film unit without serious challenge.