TITLE: President, Lionsgate Television Group
COMPANY: Lionsgate Entertainment
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: As part of senior management team for past 15 years, led efforts to triple Lionsgate’s TV slate, now comprising 90 shows on 40 networks. As head of business affairs at New World Entertainment, put together the first-ever international co-production for a U.S. broadcast network. Formerly head of business affairs for the Columbia TriStar Television Group; and founding COO of the Artists Television Group.
QUOTE: “I’m always looking for new and interesting ways to tell a story, and to get that story in front of a new audience.”
There was a moment, early in her trailblazing career, when a visitor came to Sandra Stern’s office seeking information from the young lawyer.
When the man saw her younger, male assistant, the visitor, confused, introduced himself, then turned to Stern — and asked her to get them coffee.
The veteran Hollywood dealmaker laughs now at the slight — as she did back then — and turns on a confident smile and easy voice that has fueled her steady rise through sometimes prickly negotiations in Hollywood as president of the Lionsgate Television Group.
“I was fortunate enough to be raised by two parents who told me I could do anything I wanted to do,” said the Brooklyn, N.Y.- born Stern, the daughter of a civil servant and a bookkeeper, and the first woman in her family to get a college degree.
Fresh back from the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. (she brought her niece’s daughter), today Stern is at the white hot center of deal-making for one of the fastest growing entertainment companies in the United States: Lionsgate, a filmed entertainment powerhouse consistently breaking revenue records.
DEALS UPON DEALS
Lionsgate recently acquired Starz for $4.4 billion, and stakeholder John Malone called Lionsgate “the gravitational center of the consolidation of free radicals,” or small, independent content companies.
Stern has been a key player on the senior management team for the past 15 years, working alongside CEO Jon Feltheimer and TV Group chairman Kevin Beggs, instrumental in tripling the size of Lionsgate’s television slate, which includes 90 series on more than 40 U.S. networks. In particular, Stern is responsible for uniquely constructed international TV and streaming platform deals.
“I have worked with Sandra for over 30 years, and I’m proud to say that she is our Wonder Woman,” Feltheimer said. “She’s a game-changer, an innovator and a skilled negotiator who understands how to create win/win scenarios for Lionsgate and our partners.”
Stern led negotiations on Lionsgate’s most iconic series, including Mad Men (AMC), Weeds (Showtime), Orange is the New Black (Netflix), The Royals (E!), Casual (Hulu), Greenleaf (OWN) and Nashville (CMT, Hulu).
She also pioneered the deal structure for many of Lionsgate’s prized projects, including Step Up, the first original series for YouTube Red.
Her stature in the TV business is based on her ability to thrive in a period of disruption, and concoct distribution deals that work for all parties. “Every day is different and every deal is different,” she observed. “And what worked for Mad Men when we put it on AMC doesn’t necessarily work for Feed the Beast on AMC. Every deal is different. The pitch for Orange Is the New Black on Netflix is different than what we made for Dear White People on Netflix.”
“She is a force,” said Eric Tannenbaum at production company The Tannenbaum Co., who has known and worked with Stern for more than 15 years, first at Columbia TriStar and later at Artists Television Group. “My favorite thing about her is that she always figures out a way to make things work. It’s never ‘No.’ It’s, ‘How do we do it? Let’s figure it out.’ ”
“I like to collaborate,” Stern said. “I like to think that one plus one comes out to more than two.”
In negotiations with big studios and producers and networks, “she always has the philosophy ‘everybody should win,’ ” Tannenbaum said. “No one side should just take everything off the table. Make it work for everybody.”
Stern said she feels at home at an entertainment giant with a studio and distribution and pay channels, largely because of the philosophy of Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer. “Jon is a very unique executive,” said Stern. “He creates a culture where he believes you can be better than you believe you can be. And it’s really a culture of empowerment.”
With Feltheimer, Stern learned to take measured risk, based largely on her confidence. Together at a firm called New World Entertainment, they were having an issue trying to finance a TV series based on Zorro for a small cable network in the U.S. After many failed attempts, Stern got a bright idea: license the series to a production company in France that she knew.
Feltheimer put her on a plane to France. “I came home a week later with a check for $2.8 million,” she said. The money made it possible to finance the series, which was ultimately shot in Spain.
DON’T WORRY, BE FEARLESS
It was a very influential moment in her career. “It taught me to be fearless,” Stern said. “It caused me not to worry so much about what I don’t know — and focus on what I think I can do.” She never forgot the thrill of that victory, and long ago made a quiet promise to herself to help build that confidence in other young women coming up in the ranks.
The deal taught young Stern another thing about business — and the world of business. “The world is an international marketplace. Not a pin on a map. It was really a valuable lesson to not be so egocentric — and ethnocentric.”
Stern always wanted to be a writer; she loves the art of storytelling. “I’m always looking for new and interesting ways to tell a story,” said the former comparative literature major. “And to get that story in front of a new audience.”
A graduate of UCLA Law School, Stern began her career in the Columbia Pictures Television legal department. As head of business affairs and international development at New World Entertainment, she put together the first-ever international co-production for a U.S. broadcast network. She led business affairs for the Columbia TriStar Television Group before leaving to become founding COO of the ‘Artists Television Group. She joined Lionsgate in 2003.
Stern has directed much of her spare time on her passions: film, law and mentoring. She is a founding member of UCLA Law School’s Women’s LEAD program and serves on the boards of the UCLA School of Law Ziffren Center, the Saban Clinic, Women in Film and the Center Theatre Group. She is also prominent in Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles, which recently honored her with its Excellence in Mentoring Award.