Eight months in as president of Paramount Pictures International (PPI), Andrew Cripps is enjoying the change of pace from his last job as president and COO of UIP.
"What I've really thrived on are two things," he says. "Working with all divisions at Paramount and being part of the overall decision-making process. I'm on the greenlight committee and that's been fantastic - and really, really different from my experience at UIP.
"Also, UIP was very stable and structured and here we're setting up new territories. Being able to go out into the market and start up a company has been incredibly exciting."
Cripps, a UIP veteran since 1986, was tapped to run Paramount's new international division nearly a year before its official launch in January 2007. Paramount and Universal had announced in September 2005 that each would set up its own international business and scale down operations of the companies' 25-year-old international theatrical distribution joint venture, UIP.
Cripps has based PPI in London, with about 80 employees at the head office. Some 250 staff work in the Paramount territory offices, which, under the restructured UIP deal with Universal, have taken over the existing offices of seven former UIP territories: UK/Ireland, Australia/New Zealand, France, Mexico and Brazil.
Cripps already has an important milestone behind him: PPI crossed the $1bn mark on July 31, helped mostly by the success of Shrek The Third (through PPI's exclusive deal to distribute DreamWorks Animation films through to 2011) and Transformers.
PPI opens its first new office, in Japan, in early 2008 and has hired Ichiro Okazaki to head it. German and Spanish offices are scheduled to open in mid-2008, followed by Italy and Benelux in early 2009. "We're still debating what we're doing in places like Switzerland and Russia, where we're still distributed by Universal," says Cripps.
Under the restructured UIP deal, PPI is also handling Universal product in certain territories and the companies continue to run UIP as a joint venture in 19 territories.
Cripps says the scaled-back UIP is wise for both companies. "It makes sense in the smaller territories. BVI and Sony have a joint venture in around 15 countries, Warner Bros and Fox are together in a lot of the smaller territories. We'd need a partner in these smaller territories, and I'd prefer someone we've already worked with for 25 years."
Being outside Los Angeles has not hurt PPI's recognition at Paramount's US headquarters. "With the kinds of grosses films are taking now in international, I think, luckily, PPI is at the forefront of a lot of people's thoughts," says Cripps.
He reports to Los Angeles-based Rob Moore, Paramount's president of marketing, distribution and home entertainment, and talks regularly to studio executives including international-minded chairman and CEO Brad Grey. Los Angeles-based Ellen Pittleman is in charge of Paramount's local productions and acquisitions, with former BBC Films veteran Alexei Boltho tapped to run the acquisitions team in London. A French acquisitions executive has recently been hired, and appointments are likely in Brazil and Mexico.
It is an area of increasing importance for PPI. "One-third of the international box office is now local product, and that's up from 21% five years ago," Cripps explains. "It's a growing area where we can really step up."
PPI has so far acquired a number of UK projects, including Gurinder Chadha's Angus, Thongs And Full Frontal Snogging, Robert Weide's How To Lose Friends And Alienate People starring Simon Pegg, and Kenneth Branagh's remake of Sleuth. Paramount Vantage picked up Son Of Rambow at Sundance.
In other territories, Paramount is preparing to greenlight its first French and Mexican projects, and three Brazilian ones are at various stages of production.
Cripps predicts, on average, the company will work on one or two co- productions and four to six acquisitions in each of the bigger territories. That is on top of 22-24 films per year from the various Paramount labels.
Even staying on top of 30 films per year, there are other challenges looming. "One of the harder things we're finding is how complex it is to start new operations from scratch," he says. "The first new office is Japan, and that's probably the most difficult territory on the planet. In terms of time zone and language, it's very complex. That's been a learning curve."
Forthcoming PPI releases include Michael Winterbottom's A Mighty Heart; Matthew Vaughn's fantasy epic Stardust; the Sean Penn-directed Into The Wild; Nicole Kidman-starrer Margot At The Wedding; Things We Lost In The Fire with Halle Berry and Benicio del Toro; the Farrelly brothers' Heartbreak Kid; Marc Forster's adaptation of The Kite Runner; DreamWorks Animation's Bee Movie starring Jerry Seinfeld; and the Coen brothers' No Country For Old Men (PPI has international rights).
Cripps has already set his sights on summer 2008, with Iron Man, DreamWorks Animation's Kung Fu Panda, and the much-anticipated fourth Indiana Jones film. He predicts: "This summer has been great and I think next summer could be even better."
ANDREW CRIPPS' CULTURAL LIFE
Website: Major league baseball (MLB.com) so I can follow my Atlanta Braves.
Newspapers: International Herald Tribune and USA Today.
Recent books: Louise Rennison's Angus, Thongs And Full Frontal Snogging, which was kind of work related. And I've read Moneyball: The Art Of Winning An Unfair Game, a baseball book by Michael Lewis. Also history - I'm just about to start Antony Beevor's Stalingrad.
Films: My favourite film in the last few years has been Gladiator, I really like historical epics. And I'm a big fan of animation - that's become a passion of mine.