Aviv ousted from Disney Studios post

Continuing to clean house and put his own executive team in place, Walt Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross has ousted the studio’s production chief, Oren Aviv, and is expected to name a successor shortly.

Ross had approached Erik Feig, the production and acquisitions chief at Summit Entertainment who was the executive behind that studio’s “Twilight” franchise, about the position. But Feig, who is under contract to Summit, declined the opportunity, according to Summit Chief Executive Rob Friedman. “He’s not going to Disney and he never asked to be released from his contract,” Friedman said.

Now Ross must scramble to find a new candidate.

Aviv, an 18-year veteran of Disney who had earlier worked in marketing for Disney CEO Bob Iger at Capital Cities/ABC Inc., was a close ally of former studio Chairman Dick Cook. Aviv had headed marketing at Disney for six years before Cook moved him over to the production job in 2006.

In September, Iger pushed Cook out after a series of box office misses and underlying concerns about Cook’s stewardship of the studio. Many at Disney and in the Hollywood community thought it was only a matter of time before Aviv would be let go.

Ross delivered the news to Aviv on Monday during their regular weekly meeting.


“I’m proud of the hundreds of movies I’ve helped to make and market, especially the studio’s upcoming films,” Aviv said in a statement. Among major releases in the works are “Alice in Wonderland” and “Prince of Persia.”

While Aviv has been associated with a number of Disney’s biggest hits, including the “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “National Treasure” franchises, his more recent track record was much less successful.

Iger has been harshly critical of the studio’s extensive spending and underperformance with such duds as “Old Dogs,” “Surrogates” and “G-Force.”

In October, a month after Cook was shown the door, Iger tapped Ross, who had built the Disney Channel into a children’s-programming juggernaut, to replace him.

Since that time, Ross has removed most of Cook’s top lieutenants, including Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group President Mark Zoradi, marketing chief Jim Gallagher and Daniel Battsek, head of specialty label Miramax Films.

As part of a restructuring of the marketing and distribution operations, Ross also gave home video executive Bob Chapek expanded duties overseeing the theatrical and digital release of movies.

At the moment, Disney is still without a marketing chief. Ross enlisted an executive search firm to find a candidate from outside the usual Hollywood circles. He is said to be talking to potential hires from the technology world, reflecting the studio’s strong focus on new forms of distribution to the home and to portable devices, according to people familiar with the search.

Since taking the studio reins, Ross has been very hands-on in marketing, often soliciting Aviv’s advice, expertise and relationships with filmmakers such as “Pirates” producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

“Rich Ross wants to put his own team together, and I understand that,” said Bruckheimer, Disney’s biggest producer. “I had a phenomenal run with Oren. We made a lot of successful movies together.” Bruckheimer also produced the “National Treasure” movies and the upcoming “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and “Prince of Persia.”

Bruckheimer said Aviv was instrumental in putting together the fourth “Pirates” movie, which is being directed by Rob Marshall and is expected to begin production in early June for release in May 2011. Johnny Depp is on board to return in his legendary role of Jack Sparrow.

There is much speculation that Bruckheimer’s and producer Scott Rudin’s lucrative production arrangements with Disney will be reined in under Iger’s new edict to cut costs on the movie side.

Similar arrangements between producers and other studios, including Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment at Universal Pictures, have been downsized in a tough economic climate in which the movie business’ once-reliable DVD sales have fallen off a cliff.

Ross has told filmmakers and agents in Hollywood’s creative community that he wants to focus on family-friendly movies and more movies that appeal to women.

The studio chief, who has a background in television and has never been a movie executive, is trying to define what makes Disney films different and how to make them stand out among releases from Steven Spielberg’s production company DreamWorks, Bruckheimer and the studio’s newly acquired Marvel Entertainment unit, as well as animated pictures from Disney and Pixar Animation Studios.