Differences of style and strategy - rather than a personality clash or ugly fights over issues - appears to have provoked Duncan Clark's decision to quit his job as president of Columbia TriStar Film Distributors International (CTFDI).
Clark, who has been with the studio since 1987 and headed international distribution for the last four years, officially leaves at the end of the week (July 7).
In a prepared statement Clark described his career at Sony as "a life enriching experience." Clark told Screen International: "I've had a fabulous 13 years and wish everyone at CTFDI nothing but the best. Moving on for me is a natural step and I wish the best of luck to my many great colleagues around the world. I'm very proud of what we've achieved."
Sources close to Clark say that the split is amicable. CTFDI will release him from the multi-year contract that he signed in April last year and pay a full severance package. Timing of the move was apparently Clark's. He gets married at the weekend (July 8).
Although he has not yet finalised his next moves, Clark is understood to have a couple of consultancy opportunities that involve reviewing issues for Sony. He is also expected to make himself available to ensure a smooth transition at the studio.
Clark renewed his contract in the knowledge that Jeff Blake was being drafted into the new and more senior position of president of worldwide sales and distribution. It rapidly became clear that the two executives did not have the same vision of releasing and marketing strategy in the markets outside the US. But they played down their differences to see if time would help them find an agreed solution.
Blake told Screen International: "Once we decided to combine domestic and international from a distribution approach, it was clear that I would want to bring into effect a lot of things we learned from domestic. Duncan did everything to co-operate."
Friends close to Clark describe his approach as pragmatic, culturally sensitive and tailored to the requirements of individual films and foreign markets. He sought to avoid generic, one-look campaigns and over-wide releases.
At CineExpo in Amsterdam last week, where Clark was noticeably absent, Blake and Tony Manne, executive vice president of CTFDI, were in the vanguard of moves towards day-and-date global releasing. "This is now our policy and we are committed to giving international territories more simultaneous release dates," Manne said.
Clark, a Briton brought to Sony when David Puttnam headed the studio, is understood to want to remain in Los Angeles and may seek opportunities that combine his marketing and distribution experience with a growing interest in international production. He has been involved with Brian Gibson's rock n' roll pastiche Still Crazy, Rob Walker's Circus and the negative pick-up of Guy Ritchie's forthcoming Snatch'd. "Duncan has a wealth of experience and is anxious to put it to get involved perhaps in a situation where he will be running the shop," said Blake.
It is some measure of the growing pressure on the Hollywood studios' overseas divisions that two majors - Warner Bros recently saw the resignation of Ed Frumkes - are now without international heads. As international ancillary markets grow in their ability to deliver bottom line profits there is a corresponding imperative to achieve the best possible theatrical release.