NEW YORK -- Stacey Snider, the chairman-CEO of 20th Century Fox Films, will arrive at Oscars' Dolby Theatre on Sunday as perhaps the most successful studio executive of the moment.
Fox movies-Steven Spielberg's "The Post" as well as "The Shape of Water" and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," from the quasi-independent Fox Searchlight have gathered up 27 Oscar nominations, nine more than its nearest competitor.
Yet the night will also be deeply bittersweet, because it could represent a last hurrah. Snider took the Fox studio reins in 2016 with the belief she was in for a long ride. But in December, Rupert Murdoch announced he would sell much of 21st Century Fox to the Walt Disney Company for $52.4 billion, arguing that new technologies required a scale his company didn't possess.
"My feeling when I got the job was that I wanted to make one more push at a studio before considering other things," Snider said, in one of her first interviews since the merger was announced. "I guess other things happened sooner than I thought."
Snider, 56, has responded with a sort of creative abandon, throwing herself into several of Fox's risky bets. There's the studio's new Jennifer Lawrence movie "Red Sparrow," a hard-R story of manipulation and assault; "Love, Simon," a lo-fi dramedy about a gay teen; and "Widows," a female-centric revenge tale from "12 Years a Slave" director Steve McQueen.
And last year brought "The Post," on which she worked with frequent collaborator and business partner Spielberg. A movie that went from development to release in less than a year, it was widely seen as a Snider priority because of its timely reminder of the importance of government accountability.
But Snider says it meant something more personal. The film tells of Katharine Graham, who reached a crossroads when she unexpectedly took over as publisher of The Washington Post in middle age. Snider says she, too, had found herself at a critical life moment before landing the Fox role, and embraced it with a similar mix of doubt and conviction.
She has certainly seen as much industry turbulence as Graham, including as a Universal executive when GE bought the company in 2004 and at DreamWorks in 2008 when the firm underwent a messy split from Paramount. "A wartime executive. That's what I like to call it. That can be a thing, right?"
But she says she also maintains no illusions. "I'm very conscious about the difference between being an entrepreneur and an employee. They can pull the rug out. I mean, it's their rug," she said.
A recent Hollywood parlor game has involved guessing Snider's next move. Few believe she'll stay at Disney-Fox if she couldn't run the whole studio, a job Hollywood veteran Alan Horn would seem to have locked down.
Snider says she's made no decision, nor does she believe Disney chairman-CEO Robert Iger has either. She says she has not had a substantive conversation with Iger about her future since right after the merger was announced.
But Snider herself sometimes slips into the past tense when talking about Fox. And even if she could stay, she's not sure she should; Disney's tentpole strategy differs from the one-offs on which she's built her career.
Producing has come up as an option. Amy Pascal, producer of "The Post" and a longtime ally, said that such a shift "wouldn't surprise me; she's always been very entrepreneurial." Snider acknowledged that "being entrepreneurial is interesting to me. I don't really want to be pigeonholed as a career executive."
After introducing "Red Sparrow" to a premiere audience of 1,100 at Lincoln Center last week, she walked into the afterparty and spotted the studio's head of production, Emma Watts, and marketing chief, Pam Levine. (Fox is one of the most female-led studios in Hollywood.) Since the merger was announced, Snider had to rally the troops even while she saysher own morale has flagged, and she shared a moment of commiseration with them.
Watts and Levine are younger than Snider, and as she stepped away she noted a distinction. "My generation was just happy to be in the room. When we stood up to men, it was always by creating off-ramps," she said. "The women coming up behind me have not been nearly as polite." She said she was never a firsthand victim of harassment. "Whenever it looked like it would go there I would tell a man I was a very cling-y girlfriend. And he would back right off."
That said, maneuvering around male executives had been tricky. "I long for the day where I don't have to sit in staff meetings and say things like 'it seems to me,'" Snider said. "It would be like how I imagine men feel all the time."
One of Snider's strengths has been her industry hybridity. She brings enough business fluency to reassure the bean-counters but sufficient creative savvy to win over filmmakers. "She can speak the language of anyone in any room," says Greg Berlanti, the TV producer who directed "Love, Simon."
Yet she can also be a divisive force. As the number two at Fox several years ago, some smooth courting of Lachlan Murdoch helped her oust her boss, Jim Gianopulos, ruffling some feathers on the lot as Gianopulos left quickly.
But rare is the Hollywood plan that stays on track, and Snider is now coping with a potential abrupt departure of her own. "I was sad and surprised when the merger was announced," she said. "Surprised because I didn't see (the Murdochs) as a seller, and sad because I never thought a 100-year-old studio could be absorbed in this way."
Then she hit reverse. "I have to appreciate that this is a time of dramatic change," she said. "There's an undertow in the ocean. And I don't want to get pulled out."
(c) 2018, The Washington Post. Written by Steven Zeitchik.