Warner Bros hasconfirmed that it has put its plans for a specialized film unit back on thefast track and is now actively searching for an executive to run it. Warner hasbeen the only major studio without a classics division for some time and hasbeen toying with the idea for about two years now.
But in The LosAngeles Times yesterday, Warner Bros president and chief operating officer AlanHorn said that he is looking to correct the perception of the studio was as a producer of franchise andevent pictures not of so-called prestige movies. "Let's just say with mytickets to the Golden Globes this year, they sent me binoculars," he joked,adding that it was when he read and passed on Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven because the studio was not positioned torelease a film like it that he started to feel uneasy. Far From Heaven was produced by Killer Films andexecutive produced by Warner-based producer John Wells who has a partnershipwith Killer.
Horn has beenrestructuring Warner Bros Pictures in the wake of the departure of long-time chiefLorenzo di Bonaventura in Sept 2002. di Bonaventura had championed theformation of a classics division at the studio and was in advanced negotiationswith Sundance Film Festival director Geoffrey Gilmore to run it in late 2000.Russell Schwartz, the former head of Gramercy Pictures and now marketing chiefat New Line Cinema, was in the frame to co-head the unit before he segued toNew Line. But that configuration was never finalized, although di Bonaventuradid sign a co-production agreement with the UK's FilmFour which yielded thedisappointing Charlotte Gray starring Cate Blanchett.
In the wake ofDi Bonaventura's departure, Jeff Robinov assumed the role of president,domestic production, and, now that he is ensconsed alongside Steve Papazian whois president of physical production, Horn is turning his attention fast tospecialized films.
Currently beingdetermined is the structure of the unit and how it will work alongside theexisting studio infrastructure
In addition tothe obvious benefits of producing arthouse films like attracting talent,discovering new film-makers and winning awards, Warner, like every otherstudio, is highly conscious of the ageing baby boomer audience, some 40% ofwhich is now over the age of 40.
In addition,Warner has been dramatically expanding its international production activitieswhich have already yielded local hits such as It Can't Be All Our Fault (MaChe Colpa Abbiamo Noi) inItaly and Le Bouletin France. The studio recently committed to its first Chinese-language picture TurnLeft, Turn Right, to bewritten and directed by one of Hong Kong's most successful filmmaking teams - JohnnieTo and Wai Ka-fai - and is backing Jean-Pierre Jeunet's follow-up to Amelie - A Very Long Engagement in France. If these activities, which areoverseen by Warner Bros executive vice president, international, Richard Foxdeliver films which could warrant a US release, a classics division would bethe perfect place.
The Warnerinitiative comes during a season which has seen Disney's Miramax enjoy abreakout hit with Chicago, MGM's United Artists score $20m success with Bowling ForColumbine, and Universal'snew Focus Features division flourish with Far From Heaven and The Pianist. Paramount Pictures' Paramount Classicsarm bought multiple territory rights to The United States Of Leland at the Sundance Film Festival in January,while Sony Pictures' Sony Pictures Classics - the oldest studio team of all -is pitching for Pedro Almodovar's Talk To Her to score Oscar nominations next Tuesday.
Warner meanwhile has focusedon its powerhouse blockbuster lineup in 2003 which includes The MatrixReloaded and The MatrixRevolutions and Terminator 3:Rise Of The Machines (domesticonly).