Universal Pictures has made a key appointment ahead of next year'smove towards complete autonomy in overseas operations, hiring Duncan Clark asexecutive vice president of international distribution.

Clark, who spent 13 years at Columbia TriStar Film Distributors International(CTFDI) and the last four as president, will be based in London and reportdirectly to international marketing and distribution president David Kosse.

The studio is putting together its worldwide marketing and distributionteam in time for Jan 1 2007, when it will begin distributing features directlyin 15 major markets separately from its UIP joint venture with ParamountPictures.

Universal will wholly own and operate in Germany, Italy, Spain and Russia, among other territories. UIP partner Paramount takes direct control of distribution in the UK, France, Mexico, Australia and Brazil.

The two studios initially have the option to sub-distributethrough each other's operations until further arrangements are in place. Universalis expected to announce its own UK operation in the near future.

Clark, who will relocate to London with his family later in theyear, said he was relishing the challenge of building a major international infrastructure.

"We have the chance to craft something here that will create new paradigms where we don't have to ask anybody else about what we're doing," Clark said.

Referring to those territories where Universal does not as yethave wholly owned distribution operations, he added: "We've certainly got oureye on what we want to do in the key areas and obviously the UK is an important territory, as is Australia."

"Duncan brings everything from an understanding of theworldwide marketing and distribution to experience of managing a diverse group ofstrong territory executives," Kosse said.

"He knows exhibition and was one of the first guys toidentify the potential of local production and acquisition. He also hasterrific filmmaker relationships."

Clark has overseen themarketing and distribution of more than 1,000 films in more than 60 countries. Hejoined CTFDI in 1987 as vice president of international advertising andpublicity and rapidly rose through the ranks.

He was named president in 1996 and a year later oversaw thedivision's first $1bn year, releasing such hits as Jerry Maguire, TheDevil's Own, Men In Blackand My Best Friend's Wedding.

He left the division in 2001 and became one of the foundingmembers of Equity Pictures, the German-based production and financing groupthat produced The Matador.

He most recently served as international marketing anddistribution consultant on Steven Spielberg's Munich and War Of The Worlds, and is currently a partner in the filmproduction group Pacific Media & Entertainment.