Amy Pascal: Hollywood queen

The head of Sony Pictures has just been named cinema's most powerful woman. Andrew Gumbel on Amy Pascal
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The Independent Culture

The truly powerful in Hollywood are usually people you have never heard of, but Amy Pascal, the head of Sony Pictures, is one who has quietly made a name for herself, via a mixture of charm and persistence in what is a notoriously cut-throat business.

This week, The Hollywood Reporter named her the film business's most powerful woman, and deservedly so. Sony has had a record 12 films that hit the No1 spot for box-office takings on their opening weekend this year - films like The Da Vinci Code, Talladega Nights and the just-released Bond makeover, Casino Royale - and has raked in more than $1bn in gross revenue, even before the lucrative end-of-year holiday season. There is every reason to think that next year will be a rosy one too, if only because of the looming arrival of the hotly anticipated Spider-Man 3 in May.

Pascal, who is 47, is the first to subscribe to William Goldman's famous adage that, in Hollywood, nobody knows anything, and that one good year is as much a matter of luck as it is of good judgement. "I know how cyclical this business is," she told Variety recently, " and I no longer see a couple of movies in a row that don't work and panic."

But she has been around a remarkably long time: she first climbed to the top of the studio ladder in 1996, when she ran Columbia Pictures. She got the top film job at Columbia's parent, Sony Pictures Entertainment, in 2003.

It hasn't all been smooth. Sony had a dog of a year in 2005, as did most of the other major studios, because of a surfeit of action blockbusters and sequels that struck audiences and critics alike as tired and unoriginal. Pascal was quick, perhaps quicker than her fellow studio heads, to learn from these mistakes. As she told The Hollywood Reporter: "There was a period after Spider-Man when we thought that everything should be a franchise, and now I don't think that's true."

Like any good business leader, she has gone for diversification: big movies with global appeal like The Da Vinci Code or the new Bond film, high-concept comedies like Talladega Nights, and also smaller, conceptually more challenging productions like Stranger Than Fiction.

This year, her mistakes have been honourable ones: a big-budget adaptation of a famous political novel, All The King's Men, that just didn't work, and Sofia Coppola's lavish punk reinterpretation of the life of Marie-Antoinette.

Pascal is a career film producer, not an executive bean-counter, so she has a real feel for what she is putting out there. She started as an executive at Columbia in 1987, and helped develop Cameron Crowe's Say Anything, the Bill Murray comedy Groundhog Day and the women's baseball film A League of Their Own. She has always paid close attention to female directors and films with meaty parts for women. Although she is accused of pumping out "chick-flicks", her gender has been an asset in an age of increasingly female studio management in Hollywood. For years she was mentioned in the same breath as Sherry Lansing, the powerful head of Paramount, now retired. Now it is Anne Sweeney, the head of television at Disney.

Pascal's husband, Bernard Weinraub, was an entertainment reporter for The New York Times until last year. "For both of us," he wrote, "the liaison opened a rare two-way window on the inner workings of two worlds, moviedom and the press, that have long been locked in a messy...symbiotic struggle."