Sales veteran Bill Stephens is stepping down as head of sales at the UK's Renaissance Films along with the company's senior sales executive Charlie Bloye.
In the wake of the departures, Renaissance co-chief Angus Finney, who did not return calls, is expected to oversee foreign sales strategy for the relatively well-heeled British production and financing outfit.
The move comes after attempts by Renaissance to mount its most ambitious production yet - Bryan Singer's Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind - were seen to stall even with both Johnny Depp and George Clooney once attached to the project.
Confessions, a $35.5m fictionalised bio-pic of Gong Show host Chuck Barris, was only weeks from principal photography when it was called off. Renaissance, which was handling international rights, reportedly sunk $1m into the production but apparently failed to secure adequate pre-sales co-financing to go ahead with the project in its original form. The prospect of a Hollywood acting strike this summer has since complicated attempts to resuscitate the project with a different cast - and perhaps a less risky budget.
Renaissance's sales arm, together with the presence of the established Stephens at the company , were cited as key factors in its ability to secure backing to the tune of $40m from City of London pension fund managers Hermes when it launched in July 1999. Stephens, who confirmed his and Bloye'sdeparture but declined further comment, previously ran the sales division ofthe UK's FilmFour.
Confessions marked a significant step up in terms of level of budget and profile of talent for both Renaissance and Stephens. Since securing Hermes' backing, thecompany's biggest production to go before the cameras has been Marleen Gorris' The Luzhin Defense, starring Emily Watson and John Turturro. Operating as a production company prior to the Hermes deal, Renaissance had specialised in upscale period fare such as The Madness Of King George.
Another factor in Stephens' departure may have been a shortage of product coming through the pipeline. Renaissance is still lining up several other large-scale titles - including Terry Gilliam's $50m Good Omens and Nicholas Hytner's $25m Los Alamos - but none appear ready to shoot before the threatened actors' strike.
The move also testifies to the tough conditions facing independent sellers: the once swinging London sales scene recently lost United Artists Film Sales, while J&M Entertainment has become the Londonarm of the US' Myriad. However, some buyers argue that the subject matter of Confessions meant it was always going to be a hard sell outside the US even with its illustrious cast attachments and a script by Charlie Kaufman, the quirky creator of both Being John Malkovich and the upcoming Human Nature.