Less than a year after his promotion to president of motion pictures at Walt Disney Studios, David Hoberman resigned Tuesday to take a five-year, multipicture production deal with the company.
Hoberman’s departure comes as no surprise to many in the movie industry, because his boss, studio chief Joe Roth--who assumed power last summer--is a hands-on executive who wants to put his own mark on the company.
“Ultimately he wants to have his own shop as a producer and what is best for me is to have my own direct point of view,” Roth said, adding, “It’s important to me to put my name behind this whole (live-action movie operation).”
Hollywood insiders speculated that it was only a matter of time before Roth and Hoberman would clash. Roth, the former movie chief of 20th Century Fox, is a veteran producer in his own right.
“Hoberman’s resignation is a wonderful example of very large egos clashing, which I think is what went on with David and Joe,” said one industry insider.
Roth and Hoberman, however, said that contrary to conventional belief, both men became friends and learned to work well together.
“There was no clash of egos,” Hoberman said. “Joe and I became very good friends and I have enormous respect for what he has done.”
“People want to tell the darkest story available,” Roth said.
“In this case, we came to a place where we could work together.”
Work together or not, Hoberman’s departure, effective immediately, is a strong signal that Roth intends to run the show where live action is concerned.
Roth will have creative approval over the movies Hoberman produces for Disney.
Under his new deal, Hoberman’s production company, Mandeville Films, is expected to provide two to three films a year for any of the three Disney banners: Walt Disney Pictures, Hollywood Pictures and Touchstone Pictures.
Rumors have been floating this week that the struggling Hollywood Pictures unit might be folded into Touchstone and that Hollywood Pictures President Michael Lynton may be reassigned at Disney.
But Roth said Tuesday that he has no plans to do that. In addition to Lynton remaining in place, so will Touchstone President Donald De Line and Disney President David Vogel.
Hoberman’s departure represents a further dismantling of the team under former Disney studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg. In recent weeks, business affairs chief Helene Hahn left to join Katzenberg’s new studio venture with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen, while marketing chief Bob Levin moved into a senior communications job with parent Walt Disney Co.
Another key marketing executive, Gary Kalkin, died last week. Last April, Ricardo Mestres was also forced to depart as president of Hollywood Pictures for a production deal at the studio.
In many respects, Hoberman’s resignation was laced with irony. Only a year ago, he headed home from the ski slopes of Vail, Colo., accompanied by Disney corporate president Frank G. Wells, fresh in the knowledge that he would soon be promoted to head of motion picture operations for the studio’s three labels.
Weeks later, Wells died in a helicopter crash, setting in motion a chain of events that would eventually lead to Katzenberg’s acrimonious departure from Disney after trying in vain to convince Chairman Michael D. Eisner to make him Wells’ replacement.
Caught up in this intrigue was Hoberman, who Katzenberg had elevated last April from head of Walt Disney Pictures and Touchstone Pictures to a post overseeing all live-action films. Hoberman may have seen this as a chance to finally put his personal stamp on Disney films.