Has Peter Guber, the usually chipper chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, been inhabited by the ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge?
That’s the conclusion some senior creative executives have drawn from Guber’s tight-fisted dispersion of performance bonuses this year.
A Dickensian level of resentment started building on the company’s Culver City lot several weeks ago when executives at Sony’s Columbia Pictures and TriStar Pictures divisions were told that fiscal year-end profit participations would be modest.
Shock set in when the actual figures emerged.
Sources throughout the company say that individual payments were less than half of what was expected, based on past experience and their own expectations. The anger reached ballistic levels at Columbia, where executives anticipated rich rewards for such 1992 successes as “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” “A League of Their Own,” “A River Runs Through It” and “A Few Good Men,” which was produced for Columbia by Castle Rock Entertainment.
Several executives from Columbia’s production, marketing and distribution divisions allegedly threatened to quit over the initial sums, and a few returned their checks.
Sources say that Columbia Chairman Mark Canton ultimately calmed the waters when he succeeded in persuading Guber to provide more money to his staff. Aiding in the mediation was Hollywood super-attorney Jake Bloom, who represents several of the people involved.
At TriStar, which reportedly accepted Guber’s initial terms, the response was said to be a bit more muted. Sources said TriStar executives reacted more philosophically to the payments because the studio is still struggling to regain its footing at the box office.
Both studios should have big summers ahead, which could lead to further bonus pressures next year. TriStar is distributing the Carolco Pictures adventure epic “Cliffhanger.”
And Columbia has “The Last Action Hero,” which marks Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first screen appearance since the mega-blockbuster “Terminator 2.”
Guber, Canton and TriStar Chairman Mike Medavoy on Thursday declined comment on the bonuses, which can constitute a hefty percentage of annual pay in Hollywood.
Depending on the studio involved and the kind of year it has enjoyed, top executives often take home hundreds of thousands, even millions, of extra dollars. Sources say that Columbia/TriStar bonuses ranged from $10,000 to $100,000.
Sony executives privately offered several explanations for the bonus brouhaha.
Some termed it a conscious effort by senior executives to reshape Sony’s spend-happy image, which has dogged the company since Japan’s Sony Corp. purchased it for $3.4 billion plus sizable debt in 1989. Others put forth a more conspiratorial view--insisting that the bonus money is being quietly held in reserve for the senior-most Sony Pictures executives.
Whatever the case, morale is still on the ropes.
“We feel cheated,” said one company source. “People whose contracts are expiring are contemplating whether they should return.”
Spin Town: The parent company denies it, but other sources close to the negotiations insist that Geffen Records executive Gary Gersh is close to being named president of Capitol Records.
Gersh, who is best known for bringing big-selling groups such as Nirvana and Sonic Youth to Geffen, is said to be in advanced discussions with Charles Koppelman, chairman of EMI Records Group North America.
Gersh’s other signings include Robbie Robertson and Pat Metheny.
One thorny complication, sources say, is the fate of Capitol’s current president, Hale Milgram.
Some speculation has Milgram, who reportedly has a year remaining on his contract, being offered his own boutique label.
But a Capitol spokesman denied any such change is underway.
All of the parties declined comment on the supposed negotiations on Thursday, including entertainment attorney Don Passman, who represents Gersh.
There has been rampant speculation about management changes at Capitol since January, when Koppelman came on board.
The first shoe fell last month, when Capitol-EMI Music Chairman Joe Smith retired.
Sources say that Koppelman ultimately wants to bring in executives with a stronger feel for the youth market.
The labels under Koppelman’s supervision, in addition to Capitol, include SBK, Chrysalis, EMI, Liberty, Angel and Blue Note.