Warner Bros. on Tuesday fired Chris Pula, its movie marketing head, as the company struggles with a prolonged box-office slump at one of Hollywood's most historically successful and stable studios.
The firing is highly unusual, if not unprecedented, for Warner, which has tended to keep movie executives in its fold longer than most of its competitors. Only last week the company's top executives said no heads would roll because of problems in the movie division.
But the dismissal comes as little surprise to those at Warner or in Hollywood familiar with Pula's tempestuous relationships at the studio since his arrival on the Burbank lot last January.
While Pula is widely respected in the industry for his innovative campaigns and creative marketing, he is flamboyant and outspoken. On several occasions, his directness and colorful style clashed with other executives and filmmakers at the studio--which is known for its button-down, corporate, conservative approach to business.
Over the last 10 months, Warner executives often spoke about heated marketing meetings between Pula and some of the older studio hands.
Although his firing had been rumored for months, and flatly denied by the studio brass, Pula was said to have been shocked when he walked into a 2:30 meeting Tuesday with Bob Daly and Terry Semel, Warner Bros. co-chairmen, and heard the news.
Sources say he was given no specific reason for the firing, other than that "it just wasn't working out." Pula had three years left on his four-year contract.
In a statement, Daly and Semel said, "This was a very difficult decision, but one we felt we had to make for the good of the company."
Many industry insiders believe that Pula is being made the fall guy for Warner's troubled 18 months or so at the box office. They say he is being blamed for not being able to open such movies as "Father's Day," "Mad City" and "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," as well as a number of other releases that flopped.
Daly insisted that is not the case.
"He is not the fall guy. This has nothing to do with this year's releases," Daly said in an interview Tuesday. "This has to do with the fact that it just didn't work out."
Sources said there were a number of executives at Warner who wanted to see Pula ousted but that Daly was one of the few willing to give the executive more time to try and work out.
In a phone interview from his home, Pula acknowledged he was perhaps "naive to think it was an easy task" to marry into a staid corporate environment.
"When I first took the job, everyone said it was a corporate fit doomed to fail, and I guess they were right. But it wasn't because both sides didn't try hard," said Pula, who before joining Warner had a successful run as head of marketing at New Line with campaigns for such hits as Jim Carrey's "The Mask" and "Dumb and Dumber," "Michael" and "Mortal Kombat," and before that as a senior marketing executive at 20th Century Fox.
Pula said he does not view himself as the fall guy. Nor does he think his rebellious nature and unconventional style--he drives a beat-up 1971 Carmen Ghia and often rides his bicycle to work--worked against him.
"It's not because I wear T-shirts and jeans or dance in the hallways," said Pula. "It just wasn't a good fit. . . . I'm opinionated, loud, flamboyant and I'm very good at what I do for a living, but I'm not an easy executive."
Pula began his career in broadcasting at CNN in Atlanta as a member of the cable network's start-up team. He also spent five years as an account supervisor and creative supervisor for Grey Entertainment & Media in New York.