Sony Music’s new president, Andy Lack, must be dreading the next two days.
Lack, whom Sony Chairman Howard Stringer brought in to replace Tommy Mottola, will be issuing almost 400 pink slips Thursday and Friday, my sources tell me.
The layoffs will affect every part of Sony Music, especially in instances where two or more people have been doing similar jobs in different divisions. A good portion of the Columbia and Epic Records staffs will be eliminated so that one group will be doing the bulk of the back room work.
All of Sony Music will be under the purview of Donnie Ienner (pronounced eye- ner in case you were wondering). Ienner worked under Mottola for 14 years. Columbia Records will fall under the responsibility of Will Botwin. What remains of Epic Records will go to Polly Anthony, if she chooses to stay.
Anthony, a Mottola loyalist, doesn’t get on well with Ienner. There’s a rumor that she has an offer to move to Universal Music Group with Doug Morris. Many insiders are betting she’ll take it.
Two beloved vets, Dave Glew and Mel Ilberman, will likely retire.
The Sony moves are no surprise at this point, but they have to happen before March 31, which is the end of the company’s fiscal year. Another round of layoffs, maybe equal to this number, will happen in the next fiscal year.
Records aren’t selling, one Sony insider conceded to me. And something hasn’t been done. My guess is that we’ll move away from CDs to digital downloading. But no one knows how that will happen.
This week’s album sales, according to hitsdailydouble.com, are back to the low numbers of two months ago. The top 10 is barely selling a combined 1 million CDs. Much of the problem is that no new, exciting releases have come out in months. Albums by Norah Jones, Kid Rock and Eminem have hung on in the top 10 because nothing has come along to replace them.
Columbia/Epic’s sole runaway hit has been the soundtrack to the movie, Chicago, which luckily won the best picture award at the Oscars on Sunday. The album should have a bump up this week.
In the meantime, there’s been grumbling that Sony Music has run out of money and isn’t paying its freelancers and outside vendors. People were told not to issue or cash checks until after April 1, another Sony source told me. But how widespread that is still unknown.
What is true is that Mottola’s departure is akin to that of a deposed dictator of a small banana republic. Once the new regime comes in and examines the books, they find the country has little operating capital. Changes have to be made immediately.
One change someone’s going to have to deal with is the endless quarrel with Michael Jackson. His $200 million loan guaranteed by Sony is still a massive point of contention for the company. Jackson owns 50 percent of Sony/ATV Music Publishing, and Sony would like very much to get it back. The catalogue, which contains all the songs written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, has become something of a Holy Grail in the fight between Sony and Jackson.
Yesterday, a few gossip columns carried detailed stories of Vanity Fair’s Oscar party.
I was amazed since the day before the party, many of the same writers and photographers were complaining that they had been uninvited from the event. Two such people, Cindy Adams and photographer Kevin Mazur, had been told to go away.
And they even wrote a story about me, said Mazur. I guess it doesn’t matter. Adams also had a feature on her penned in Vanity Fair this year.
But the Oscar party invites all over town were part of this contentious business. Studios and sponsors seemed to forget that all year they’d been bothering the press for mentions and plugs. Now they were afraid that we’d report on the stars whooping it up while soldiers died in Iraq. Unbelievable.
Of course, the stars were whooping it up. Don’t think for a moment they weren’t. Just because Vanity Fair didn’t have a red carpet with paparazzi doesn’t mean their guests weren’t boozing it up and sloshing around Mortons just as they do every year.
Barbra Streisand, who criticizes the war and President Bush, was among the revelers.
Still, the one image I won’t be able to forget is the line of celebs holding their silver mylar shopping bags full of new expensive Reebok sneakers while they waited for their limos on Saturday night at the Beverly Hills Hotel. They’d just been at a $2,500 a plate dinner for the Motion Picture Fund, the group that runs what used to be called the Actors Old Age Home in Woodland Hills.
Of all the many surprises at the Oscar ceremony, the saddest one was the failure of Gangs of New York to get even one award. I can tell you that when it lost best song to Eminem and best actor to Adrien Brody, there were gasps in the Kodak Theatre. Of course, the biggest gasp was when Roman Polanski beat Martin Scorsese as best director.
So what happened? At least in Brody’s case, it was a classic example of two other nominees negating each other. Not to diminish Brody’s performance, but Daniel Day-Lewis and Jack Nicholson had won just about every other award. In one instance, they tied for an award.
The decisive Screen Actors Guild vote gave the nod to Day-Lewis. He looked set to take home the Oscar. But voters may have tired of this competition, and simply skipped to Brody in the Holocaust film. And that’s Hollywood, kids, isn’t it? You need luck besides skill to make it in this town.
Scorsese will move on to The Aviator with Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes. There will be an inevitable push again to get him the Oscar. Hopefully the script of the The Aviator will carefully develop the secondary characters in the story much the way Citizen Kane did in establishing the circle of people around William Randolph Hearst. When audiences are moved to tears, they vote Oscar.
In the meantime, I predict Gangs will ripen along the lines of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. Each was a bitter pill to swallow when it was released, but in time became classics. I think a whole generation of comics will start imitating Daniel Day-Lewis, complete with 'oopsy daisy!' as a punch-line. Years from now -- and no disrespect to Brody -- people will say, Didn’t Daniel Day-Lewis win the Oscar for that movie?