Terry Press and Wolfgang Hammer chart CBS Films’ new direction
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Veteran marketing executive Terry Press and young business executive Wolfgang Hammer were named co-presidents of CBS Films on Monday, tasked with turning around the small film unit of television giant CBS Corp.
Both have been working with CBS Films since late 2010, Hammer as chief operating officer and Press as a consultant.
The duo spoke with Company Town about why they took the jobs and where they hope to take the mini-studio that stumbled out of the gate with movies like ‘Extraordinary Measures’ and ‘The Back-Up Plan’ but recently had its first hit in ‘The Woman in Black.’
Company Town: CBS Films has been without an official leader since September, when [former president] Amy Baer left. What can you tell me about your discussions with [CBS Chief Executive] Leslie Moonves that led this new arrangement?
Wolfgang Hammer: Things have been working very well with the two of us for a long time, so it’s fairly easy. It’s pretty much business as usual. This is a small company where everyone talks about everything.
Terry Press: There has already been a difference in the model for the company. It’s pretty clear that the original plan has evolved into a more lean, mean machine that is a combination of productions and acquisitions. So this is a continuation of what we have been doing.
CT: In short, how would you describe your strategy for CBS Films? You have obviously been putting it into effect for a while now and we saw the first results in ‘The Woman in Black,’ but you have never spoken publicly about your vision.
WH: There was a great sense of urgency when we both got here. It was a struggling organization that needed to be rebuilt. There were no movies in the pipeline. That’s why we didn’t release a lot last year. Acquisitions are quicker to get things started again. We were looking for very specific, classier, filmmaker-driven fare that happened to be available. CT: I’m sure you’ve had conversations with Les Moonves about the role he wants CBS Films to play for CBS overall. Does he want you to be a key supplier for the company’s premium cable network, Showtime?
TP: In the conversations I have had with Les, he’s interested in creating premium content. He either wants to make movies that make money or that he’s proud of. As excited as Wolfgang and I are, we don’t kid ourselves about how big the CBS corporation is and how small this division is inside of it.
WH: The CBS corporation is in every aspect of entertainment in terms of production and distribution. We are definitely a big supplier to Showtime. They love ‘The Woman in Black.’ It’s theatrically successful and perfect for their target audience. They know we will always be there at the same time that there are new platforms competing against premium cable like Netflix. There is a big corporate rationale to have a film business, no matter how small.
CT: You’re looking to release between four and six movies per year. Will you stay the same size or do you hope to grow?
WH: I think we’ll stay the same size. We want to keep running a fiscally responsible operation.
TP: Being small allows you to take risks and try new things. All of us here are really invested in trying to find new ways to make movies relevant. I think that’s kind of exciting to get to be able to do.
CT: If you’re successful, how will people view CBS Films in a few years?
WH: I want for us to become a destination for filmmakers who are trying to do interesting, emotional work. It would be a really nice achievement for us to be known as that. We’re taking creative risks because we’re scaling back on how much money we need to do things. But we’re still very muscular.
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-- Ben Fritz