Lionsgate lays off 15% of film staff as Hollywood suffers from the pandemic

Keanu Reeves in Lionsgate's "John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum."
(Niko Tavernise / Associated Press)

Lionsgate, the studio behind franchises such as “John Wick,” said Thursday it is laying off 15% of staff in its film division as the company adapts to massive changes in the movie business that have been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Santa Monica-based studio’s motion picture group currently employs about 450 people worldwide, a studio spokesman said, meaning nearly 70 positions are being cut. Other Lionsgate divisions are not affected by the reduction.

Joe Drake, the chairman of Lionsgate’s motion picture group, said in a memo to staff that the staffing reductions were part of a larger reorganization of the movie division.


“While our business remains fundamentally strong, we are not immune to the ongoing COVID crisis that is impacting us like so many other studios,” Drake said in the letter to employees. “As a leader whose first priority is ‘A Best Place to Work,’ it is with a heavy heart that I tell you as part of the changes to our operational structure, we will be saying goodbye to a number of our colleagues, friends and co-workers today.”

ESPN is slashing 500 jobs as cost pressures from the pandemic is speeding up the sports media company’s move into streaming.

Lionsgate and other studios have struggled to grapple with the impact of COVID-19, which has kept nearly half of the U.S.’ movie theaters closed, making it difficult for studios to release major films.

For Lionsgate’s film group, which has long prioritized theatrical releases, the prospect of releasing movies is daunting as key markets including Los Angeles and New York remain closed for cinemas. Major studios including Walt Disney Co. and AT&T Inc.'s WarnerMedia are reorganizing to prioritize streaming video in order to meet shifting consumer preferences.

“While the value and power of the stories we tell are stronger than ever, the significant change we are experiencing in the consumer and distribution landscape is not temporary or slowing down,” Drake wrote.

The cuts are the latest move by the studio to cut costs and streamline its business since Drake joined the company three years ago. Lionsgate in March let go of nearly 20 people in its marketing and distribution divisions in late March, shortly after the pandemic wrecked the industry. In early 2019, Lionsgate cut at least 45 people in a move to consolidate operations in its film division.

The pandemic has had a significant effect on employment in the entertainment and media industries. Disney recently laid off 28,000 workers from its parks, experiences and products division. On Thursday, the company said 500 jobs would be cut from its sports network ESPN. WarnerMedia is expected to cut thousands of positions because of a major restructuring.