Wednesday, December 5, 2018

If I Were Disney CEO Part 30 - 20th Century Fox

"Combining the 21CF businesses with Disney and establishing new 'Fox' will unlock significant value for our shareholders.  We are grateful to our shareholders for approving this transaction.  I want to thank all of our executives and colleagues for their enormous contributions in building 21st Century Fox over the past decades.  With their help, we expect the enlarged Disney and new 'Fox' companies will be pre-eminent in the entertainment and media industries."
Rupert Murdoch, Executive Chairman, 21st Century Fox

"We're incredibly pleased that shareholders of both companies have granted approval for us to move forward, and are confident in our ability to create significant long-term value through this acquisition of Fox's premier assets.  We remain grateful to Rupert Murdoch and to the rest of the 21st Century Fox board for entrusting us with the future of these extraordinary businesses, and look forward to welcoming 21st Century Fox's stellar talent to Disney and ultimately integrating our businesses to provide consumers around the world with more appealing content and entertainment options."
Robert Iger, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Walt Disney Company

Disney's most recent acquisition is 20th Century Fox.  Still working its way through approvals, the acquisition looks to be completed early next year.  In this acquisition, Disney has obtained a compelling film library dating back to the earliest parts of the 20th century and including full rights to many other properties Disney already owned.  The greatest challenge is to determine what 20th Century Fox adds to the Disney studio organization beyond simply providing a home for R rated releases.

The goals for 20th Century Fox, then, center on creating a unique identity and purpose within the Disney organization.

Primary Goals for the Division:
  • Move X-men and Fantastic Four related films to Marvel Studios - This will undoubtedly be part of the goal of the acquisition, but it should be stated.  X-men and Fantastic Four related films should be moved under the Marvel Studios banner.  This will require a slight reboot of the films, but that should not be a huge hurdle.  The Fantastic Four films would surely welcome it and they would make the perfect addition to MCU Phase 4.  X-men films will be the ones hurt most by a reboot, but there are various options there.  However they proceed, Ryan Reynolds can remain as Deadpool.  It would make sense that he would be able to recall a massive reboot, with his meta-awareness.
  • Ignore the impulse to put the Fox fanfare back on Star Wars films - The other film series put back together with the Fox acquisition is Star Wars.  This gives Disney full access to all of the Star Wars films and could tempt some to put the 20th Century Fox opening and fanfare back at the beginning of the films.  I would resist this impulse and take the opportunity to fully cement the Lucasfilm brand, as discussed in the previous entry in this series.
  • Identify the franchises for continuation and development - Beyond the Marvel related and Star Wars films, 20th Century Fox has a deep library with a few franchises that are worth continuing to explore.  Alien, Predator, Planet of the Apes, Avatar, and Kingsman are a few series that merit further exploration and further development.  Though these would be the exception to the key focus of the studio, there is worth to be gained through these properties.
  • Embrace the R rating, but don't cater solely to it - The obvious fit for 20th Century Fox in the Disney family is to handle the films that are less than family friendly.  To house the R-rated pictures.  While this is an important niche and can mean the true end of the Hollywood Pictures, Buena Vista Motion Pictures, Miramax, Dimension Films, and Touchstone Films labels as necessary for that purpose, the 20th Century Fox film slate should not solely be composed of harder/R-rated films.  To do so would ignore the rich history of the studio and would prohibit recent successes like the Greatest Showman.  Like any other tool, the rating becomes an available resource, not a crutch.
  • Identify directors for continued investment and relationship - The new post-acquisition 20th Century will be the perfect home for director driven films.  The other studios in the Disney family are either studio driven (Disney animation and live action, PIXAR, Muppets/Henson) or series driven (Marvel and Lucasfilm).  20th Century becomes a great home for standalone, director driven, auteur films.  For unique and offbeat pictures.  To that end, it would behoove the company to identify a list of directors they would like to work with on any of their projects.  Off the top of my head, I would be pushing for James Cameron, Wes Anderson, Tim Burton, Matthew Vaughn, Ridley Scott, Joe Wright, Edgar Wright, Guillermo del Toro, Patty Jenkins, and Quentin Tarantino.  If Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan were not so entrenched at Universal and Warner Brothers, respectively, I'd add them to the list.
  • Mine the Black List for script potential - The Black List refers to an annual list of most liked screenplays that are not yet produced.   It would provide a great blueprint for intriguing films for a 20th Century film slate.  Beyond the ideas the directors above would bring themselves, this could provide another source of inspiration and direction. 
  • Divest Blue Sky Animation - 20th Century Fox never had a great theatrical animation studio associated with it.  In the 1990s with the Disney Renaissance, 20th Century Fox had created Fox Family Films which became 20th Century Animation.  Today, Fox owns Blue Sky Animation for its animated film division.  Blue Sky is responsible for the Ice Age and Rio franchises as well as Robots, The Peanuts Movie, and the recent Ferdinand.  While Ice Age remains a lucrative animation franchise financially, Blue Sky represents the largest redundancy in the acquisition.  Disney has a plethora of animation resources currently and should divest Blue Sky Animation, while keeping the Ice Age film rights.  This would allow Disney potentially to develop further Ice Age films, while allowing Blue Sky to be sold to a film studio that needs animation resources.
  • Distinguish 20th Century Fox and Searchlight - Of the Fox Studios, I would keep 20th Century and Searchlight.  Both have a certain brand cache associated with the names and a history and legacy worth preserving.  The issue would be distinguishing between the two.  Currently, Searchlight represents the independent, art-house, and foreign film division, while 20th Century represents the more mainstream, full-release division.  This division seems to work, though I would characterize it more as a plot-driven versus character-driven distinction.  Smaller, more-intimate character-driven films would seem to fit better with Searchlight, whereas the larger, plot-driven tentpoles would belong to 20th Century.
  • Maintain the 20th Century name (not 21st Century) - I would keep the 20th Century Films name.  Perhaps it is just nostalgia, but 21st Century Fox just does not seem to have the same resonance.  I would seek to distinguish the studio from the New Fox that will be spinning out as an ongoing entity.  Were Disney acquiring all of the company this would not be as big of an issue, but since New Fox will exist with the broadcast television network, the sports network, and the news division, I am concerned about brand confusion between Disney's Fox studios and New Fox.  As a solution, I would propose reviving an old identity - 20th Century Pictures.  An indpendent film company in the 1930s that merged with Fox film, 20th Century Pictures would still have the familiar ring without the Fox connection.  Similarly Fox Searchlight Pictures could become simply Searchlight Pictures.  The logos still work, the fanfare still works, but the connection to Fox is removed.
Since this film studio would be more director and producer driven with a focus on unique, standalone film offerings, I do not have a suggested initial film slate for the studio.  Instead, I would simply look forward to the various ideas and unique stories that the directors would want to tell.  I would hope to creation a variation of the old studio-system within 20th Century, seeking to keep directors under this umbrella, looking to produce and release all film ideas that they have.  An exclusivity provision, if not a true studio system.

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As always, thank you for sticking with this series.  The next entry in the series is a new use for ESPN Films.

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