Conquering the Globe: Fox’s Hanneman and Jegeus celebrate record year at CineEurope

Cinemas Features

CineEurope will present its 2015 “Global Distributors of the Year” Award to Paul Hanneman and Tomas Jegeus, co-presidents of worldwide theatrical marketing and distribution at Twentieth Century Fox—an inevitable choice when you consider the year they’ve just celebrated.

In 2014, Fox broke the global box-office record previously set by Paramount Pictures in 2011, earning a sensational $5.5 billion from such hits as Gone Girl, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and X-Men: Days of Future Past. That breaks down to $3.73 billion internationally (another industry record) and $1.79 million domestically (Fox’s best-ever showing).

That sterling performance is a testament to the leadership, marketing savvy and international experience of these two 25-year Fox veterans, who assumed their current positions in late 2013 after serving as co-presidents of Twentieth Century Fox International from September 2005.

For Hanneman, the key to the studio’s success is its range of product and the acumen of its personnel. “The beauty of Fox is that we make movies of all genres and all levels. And not only that, we have people around the world, domestically and internationally, who know how to release those movies. We put as much effort into a Searchlight film or a mid-level romantic comedy as we do into a blockbuster, and we maximize revenues on every level, in every genre. I really do think that is what sets us apart.”

Hanneman points out that none of the films from Fox’s record year were “super-blockbusters. We did serious numbers, we made $750 million worldwide with X-Men, but we didn’t have an Avatar or a Harry Potter. But when you have these great movies and a team that knows what they’re doing…”

That’s not to say their coordination of so many territories is a breeze. “It’s a challenge to get everyone in sync,” Jegeus admits. “Communication is the number-one thing, the most complicated and powerful thing we have to deal with…getting everyone on the same page and mobilizing them in one direction. We have hundreds of people in territories around the world, in different time zones. That’s tricky, the big matrix of the organization we’ve built. The people who make the films are the foundation, but there is this massive and incredibly talented group of people out there in the whole world and here in the U.S. who make them successful. And communication is key to that.”

Hanneman adds, “Part of that communication is ensuring that everyone has what they want. There are a lot of different needs around the world, and while we try to globalize our campaigns as much as possible, given the Internet and how fast information travels today, there are still different needs and cultural differences in many markets. It’s challenging to insure that you’re not only giving everybody what they need but at the time that they need it. You’re launching global trailers, but then there are other pieces that need to go out to people who want something exclusive. It’s a challenge.”

Hanneman doesn’t feel the team’s approach to their work changed appreciably when they added the domestic market to their duties in 2013. “We were working with a group of people on the international side for so many years who were so talented, and there’s a real camaraderie and a real family nature to that. We wanted to instill the same kind of thing on the domestic side. It’s an interesting thing, when you look at the global business: We’re here in Los Angeles and we’re overseeing a lot of folks that oversee international and we’re overseeing folks that run one territory, which is the U.S. And you have to give [the U.S. team] free rein like you would any territory—they just happen to be the biggest territory. What we wanted to do was to instill as global a culture [as we could], a culture of good will.”

Jegeus adds, “Coming from the absolute top of Fox, it’s a very non-corporate corporation. We rely on people’s expertise and entrepreneurship. We’ve always been proponents of the idea that all business is local. We instill the overall strategy, but how people go about [implementing] that on a day-to-day basis…  We rely on them, and we’re confident we have the right people. We not a very, quote unquote, corporate company—we try to be more entrepreneurial. That’s something we do domestically as well.”

So how do these longtime co-executives divide their duties? “It’s impossible to say,” Jegeus responds. “We came from different areas, but that changed immediately. When we were given the mandate to do the job [as international co-presidents in 2005], we were told you have to be joined at the hip, you have to know what each other is doing.”

“Both of you have to know everything. That was the first thing they told us when we got the international job as co-presidents,” Hanneman adds. “They basically said, ‘Yeah, one of you comes more directly from marketing, one of you comes more directly from distribution and management, but you guys both have to know everything.’ Right now, we work as a team, we show up at everything, we argue in front of everybody. I think two people battling over something ends up with the outcome ‘One plus one equals three.’”

“When you have different perspectives, that’s when you end up with the best result,” Jegeus contends. “You reach a consensus of will and strategy and execution. Even if everyone doesn’t agree on the details, you can mobilize as an organization and feel, ‘We’re in this together’ and share in success. We also share in failure and learn from it, because you debate and discuss everything. It’s not top-down, this is how we do it—it’s a very detailed decision-making process.”

Hanneman’s early years at Fox were spent as managing director for Korea, then Japan, then as senior VP for the entire Asia-Pacific region. Jegeus began as marketing director for the U.K. office, then moved to Hong Kong in 1998 to serve as VP of Asia-Pacific marketing. (From 2002 to 2004, he had a brief hiatus from Fox as executive VP of marketing for United International Pictures.)

With their international backgrounds, Hanneman and Jegeus knew long before most observers how important the overseas markets were to the health of the movie business. “Tomas and I were talking about this 20 years ago. It took a long time for the industry press to catch up with what was actually happening in the international marketplace. Every year in the past ten years, the international numbers were eclipsing the domestic numbers.”

Recalls Jegeus, “Back in the ’90s, films like Jurassic Park and Independence Day were massive international success stories. The watershed was probably Titanic—I think that was the real turning point, that was the one which showed the true potential. International was flying under the radar for so many years and making all this money, but it became a big story in the last ten years.”

Hanneman also points out that “theatres were so much nicer internationally than they were domestically for so many years. When we were working in Hong Kong in the 1990s and traveling around Asia, there were incredible theatres in Thailand with bars in the lobbies and better seating and sound. People had no idea over here.”

“The money they spent on these places, the luxury seating, the upgrade in service, that happened 20 years ago,” Jegeus observes. “It’s fascinating to see how that’s become the norm now.”

Hanneman contends, “It never made sense to us why there weren’t gold-class cinemas in the United States. They are creeping in now, we have iPic here in Los Angeles and a few others around. But those were developed by the Australians and the Asians 20 years ago.”

Jegeus recalls, “We were in a part of the world that developed so fast… With new technologies, territories with legacy infrastructure tend to move slower. You see the biggest changes and innovations in places that can basically leapfrog. Look at what’s happened with mobile phones—it happened much quicker outside the U.S. and other mature markets. They weren’t relying on the old landlines and the big operators, they weren’t bound by them.”

Hanneman says there was “absolutely” a learning curve when the two men took on all Fox overseas markets in 2005. “I had been in Asia a long time and understood it like the back of my hand. It seemed like a huge role when you started adding on Europe and Latin America, but I have to say it was one of the most energizing moments of my life. I loved moving into the other parts of the world. We had incredible teams to work with all over the planet and we met them at international conferences here in Los Angeles over time, and to have the opportunity to start sharing these experiences with them was great. I’ve always felt so fortunate about having been on the international side of the business, because every time you were given a new opportunity, it came with a new responsibility, and that typically meant you took on a bigger chunk of the world, and for me that was like a dream come true.”

Jegeus feels he benefited from the diversity of the Asia-Pacific market. “In Asia-Pacific you have Australia, which is very mature, Westernized market, then an emerging market like China, and one of the oldest industries in the world, India, which is completely different. And one of the most challenging, Japan. What a training ground for the whole world!”

Now, in their current roles overseeing the entire world, Hanneman and Jegeus are driven to deliver domestically along with raking in that overseas coin. “We have worked really hard to improve the domestic revenues of this company since we took over,” Hanneman states. “We had a really huge year with movies working in the United States, and I think the domestic team has done an incredible job of rising to the occasion over the past year and a half.”

On the flip side of the coin, the execs are proud of how films from the studio’s specialty division, Fox Searchlight, have performed outside the United States. “Birdman did $60 million internationally. Black Swan did $225 million internationally, The Grand Budapest Hotel $115 million, and The Descendants $97 million,” Hanneman recounts. “That speaks to the fact that everyone works every genre here to the nth degree. The international team understands how to work the market. We have key executives for Searchlight in several of the major markets around the world, and they work really hard. They change the creative to suit the market. We don’t really platform like we do here—we go wide, we put our money on the table and we go for it. They’re just a very talented group of people.”

Looking ahead, Hanneman says, “We had a crazy year last year, and when you set the clock to zero and start over in January, it’s always intimidating. But we feel really excited about our lineup this year. It just goes on and on and on.” At press time, he was anticipating a major hit with Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy’s Spy, and promised that Fantastic Four will be “a reimagining of that franchise, much more in the vein of X-Men.” He’s keen on the re-teamings of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg with Bridge of Spies and Jennifer Lawrence and David O. Russell with Joy, the Maze Runner sequel The Scorch Trials, and Paper Towns, the latest movie adaptation of Fault in Our Stars author John Green. The Revenant, from Birdman Oscar winner Alejandro González Iñárritu, is “an incredible visceral experience,” he says, and with The Peanuts Movie, “you don’t get anything more iconic than that group of characters in animation.”

Overall, “we’ve got a lot of special movies coming up,” Hanneman declares. “We’re working with the finest filmmakers and actors in the business, which is a testament to our production team.”

Through its Fox International Productions division, the studio also handles local films in various overseas markets. “We’re producing movies pretty heavily in Korea, China, India, Brazil, Germany,” Hanneman notes. “There’s a lot of irons in the fire in a lot of markets around the world.”

“You want the local product to do well, you want local culture to do well,” Jegeus adds. “The entry level to get into moviemaking now, it’s so much cheaper and easier, and that grows talent in a way that wasn’t possible when studios had a monopoly. And sometimes they do it better than we do. That’s changing everywhere.”

Fox, like other studios, has embraced the practice of releasing films throughout the calendar year. “That’s why we were successful last year,” Jegeus says. “We do spread out our films—we don’t just focus on the big holidays.”
Hanneman interjects, “You look at something like Kingsman, an example of a movie that’s killing it in a window that traditionally wouldn’t have been considered a big one. We always do very well with female-skewing films in that April-May window. There really isn’t any window [that won’t work].”

Still, there’s one box-office challenge that weighs heavily on the Fox execs’ minds.” Twelve- to 24-year-olds are going less often to the cinema. We have to work really hard—exhibition, distribution and production—to ensure that we’re making the best movies we can in the type of environment where those kids want to be. Because if we don’t get them to form the habit of moviegoing at this early age, they’re not going to be coming back later like middle-aged people are today.”

With youth-oriented films like the X-Men, Maze Runner and John Green franchises, Fox seems poised to capture that elusive demographic again this year—just one part of the product mix that has the studio, Hanneman and Jegeus on a roll.