More than 10 years have passed since Alan Horn stepped down as president and chief operating officer of Warner Bros. the Harry Potter franchise and the Black Knight trilogy. “The idea of me leaving, as you know, did not come from me,” Horn said. The New York Times in 2011. “I guess they wanted younger, better looking management.”
Horn’s dismay was quickly eased by one of the great ‘the best revenge is to live well’ stories in Hollywood history: He became president of Walt Disney Studios and served in that role until January. 2021. He remained creative director until his retirement at the end of last year.
Now 79, Horn’s career took another turn when the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, David Zaslav, appointed him as a consultant within the company. In announcing the move, Zaslav hailed Horn as “one of the industry’s most respected studio executives”.
Horn spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about his plans to work with Michael De Luca and Pam Abdy, co-presidents and CEOs of the Warner Bros. group. Pictures, and other aspects of his new position.
How do you perceive your role?
The word we use is consultant and that’s exactly how I see myself. I consider myself an adviser, a consigliere, if you will. I am here to help you, advise you if necessary. My role is to support David Zaslav and his team, including Mike and Pam and my old friends from Warner Bros. I know a lot of people there and just want to offer my support.
Are you going to read scripts?
I will read as needed. I have yet to meet with Mike and Pam to really talk about the best way to be helpful. David is a very experienced businessman, a very successful leader and manager, but he has never run a film company. I will be available to help fill in the blanks.
Will you have a role vis-à-vis DC? (The unit is currently overseen by De Luca and Abdy, but permanent leadership remains unresolved.)
I think we would all agree that DC is a hugely important IP canon. I would expect to be involved in DC.
Will you have a role in green light projects?
I would be an advisor for the green light process. I understand that David has the final say. My role will be to contribute to the reflection. I really try to stay in one lane as an advisor/consultant and offer my experience and opinion on things including go-ahead things. But it will be their decision – David, Mike and Pam – how they decide to get out of this.
What about other areas? You know Warners very well.
It’s true. David is responsible for all things Warner Bros., [but] it’s true that I spent 12 years there. To the extent that I can contribute to the reflection, of course I will, whatever the subject. But the intention is to focus on producing theatrical films for traditional theatrical release and streaming. The company has a great commitment to film production.
Did you and Zaslav talk about the windows?
I believe in the traditional theatrical experience and I also know that streaming is here to stay. It’s a new normal. I think these are all decisions still in the making for each studio. They have to decide the balance. It will be David’s decision. He’s the CEO, the commanding general.
How much time will you devote to this work?
I’ve been really unplugged for seven full months now retired. I hope this arrangement will give me some kind of revived balance in life. It’s a kind of halftime. I need to be with my family too. I work hard to define this in a way that is acceptable to David Zaslav and acceptable to me as well. The words we used are “help transition” as he transitions from a very experienced manager into the world of cinematic filmmaking. This is where I spent many decades. I hope I can be of help. We’re going slowly.
Are you going to enter the office?
I have an ongoing concern about COVID and David graciously said, “No problem, work from home for a month or two, see how it goes.” There is no pressure. I pay attention to the proximity of people. I haven’t caught COVID yet. My wife did not catch COVID. It’s just COVID, or I’d take an office there immediately. My assistant is going to take up an office there right away, but he’s a much younger man.
Have you been back in the field?
I was there a few weeks ago and saw some old friends – [former studio chief] Toby Emmerich, [president of production and development at Warner Brothers Pictures] Courtenay Valenti, [business affairs chief] Steve Spira. I said hello to the guards at the gate and the guard in the [main studio] building. It was pleasantly nostalgic to say hello again.
Do you have something to do with the return of Spira? (Spira had left his position in 2020 but returned in June.)
David asked me about Steve. I think Bob Daly said something to [Zaslav]. Steve is a good friend and a great executive.
Have you spoken to your former colleagues at Disney about this role?
I wanted to give them a heads up. Bob Iger already knew that. I called Bob Chapek, then Alan Bergman. Then I contacted the heads of each of the studios and got most of them. I wanted each of them to hear it from me. I was very satisfied and delighted with their great response.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.