Jim Gianopulos, right, with director James Cameron. (Alex J. Berliner / ABImages )
Following the unexpected ouster Friday of Fox Filmed Entertainment co-chairman Tom Rothman, Hollywood's eyes have turned to a son of Greek immigrants known for his expertise in international distribution, digital devices and filmmaker relationships but not making and marketing movies.
Jim Gianopulos, who has been co-chairman alongside Rothman since the two were promoted in 2000, will stay on as the studio's sole chairman.
Rothman officially leaves Jan. 1, but lame ducks don't merit much respect in Hollywood. Producers, agents and filmmakers are already treating the 60-year-old Gianopulos as the most powerful man at one of Hollywood's biggest studios.
Some hope the switch will make for a different tone at Fox, where Rothman won few friends in Hollywood's creative community because of his focus on keeping down costs and often brusque demeanor.
Although Gianopulos is not known to be easygoing or free spending, he has cultivated relationships with such key talent as "Avatar" director James Cameron and "Star Wars" guru George Lucas, whose movies Fox releases.
Filmmakers credit him with an unflagging optimism.
"Jim leads with enthusiasm and encouragement; he never gets down and never lets you get down," said writer and producer Simon Kinberg, who has worked on such Fox pictures as "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," "This Means War," and "X-Men: First Class." "That energy, that support, is so critical when you're months or years into the grind of making a movie."
An ability to win allies will be critical for Gianopolus next year as Fox starts working with a new partner, DreamWorks Animation, and its famously prickly chief executive, Jeffrey Katzenberg.
A New York native who got his foot in the door of the entertainment industry in the 1970s as a lawyer at the American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers, Gianopulos rose through the ranks of studios including Paramount, Columbia and ultimately Fox by working in pay television and international distribution. Neither were sexy businesses in the 1980s and '90s, but they have become critical in the last decade as DVD sales have cratered.
More recently, Gianopulos has been a leading figure in Hollywood's sometimes rocky digital transformation. A friend of the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, he pushed to make movies available to download online and to install digital projectors in theaters. He also made Fox one of the most aggressive studios in combating piracy and was a leading voice behind the doomed Stop Online Piracy Act, earning detractors among those who believe such stances are detrimental to consumers.
"Jim's chairmanship is a nod to the emergence of the international marketplace as a key component of studios' growth and to his digital literacy," said Jeremy Zimmer, chief executive of the United Talent Agency.
Gianopulos' office on Fox's West Los Angeles lot is filled with movie posters transformed to poke fun at him. One features his face as one of the blue-skinned Navi in "Avatar." Another has him replacing Liam Neeson in the thriller "Taken" and changes the name of the movie to "The Greek," a nod to his pride in his Hellenic roots.
Nonetheless, the biggest question surrounding Fox's new leader is his investment in the creative side of the business. Though he's no neophyte, Gianopulos faces a learning curve in departments previously overseen primarily by Rothman.
"I never saw anybody take to a subject matter the way Jim does," said Bruce Snyder, Fox's former president of domestic distribution. "He's like a sponge who absorbs everything."
With one person overseeing the entire studio, insiders expect Production President Emma Watts and marketing heads Tony Sella and Oren Aviv to assume more responsibility.
It remains to be seen whether they successfully step up to the plate, however, or if Gianopolus seeks to make changes among his division chiefs.
They will be tested quickly. Fox has one of the riskiest films of the holiday season in director Ang Lee's nearly $100-million adaptation of the bestselling book "Life of Pi." Next year, in addition to releasing three movies for DreamWorks, Fox's big-budget bets include sequels to "Die Hard," "Wolverine" and "Percy Jackson."