Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has secured a missing link in its domestic distribution division by hiring exhibition veteran Eric Lomis. MGM exec veepee Ashley Boone heralded the move as a key in the department’s restructuring.

After weeks of negotiation, Lomis is ankling from his post as senior veepee of film for United Artists Theatre Circuit to senior veepee of domestic distribution/general sales manager, effective today.

“I feel this is one of the major steps in restructuring the distribution division, starting from the top,” Boone told Daily Variety.

“Eric gives us a fresh and very important look from being an exhibitor. If you look at where (some of) the people came from in the distribution departments at other studios, they came from exhibition. We want to clue into that,” explained Boone, who is also MGM’s prexy of worldwide marketing and distribution.

The appointment prompted a mini exec shuffle in the division.

Since Lomis assumes Andy Gruenberg’s title, Gruenberg has been promoted to exec veepee of domestic theatrical distribution. Lomis reports to Gruenberg, who in turn reports to Jack Foley, MGM president of domestic distribution.

“Eric will spend a lot of his time focusing down through the organization,” Boone said. “Jack, along with myself, will be organizing the theatrical plans. Eric will be one more person to bounce ideas off of, but Andy is responsible and Eric is the worker. … At the same time, Jack will be working very closely with me.”

Lomis will oversee distribution in the U.S. and Canada while supervising the divisions in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Toronto. Asked if the ultimate goal in hiring an exhib vet was to have better access to screens and key dates — a problem that has plagued the studio — Boone conceded, “That’s everyone’s goal, but it helps when you think like an exhibitor.”

Lomis was senior veepee of film at UATC — the country’s biggest exhib chain — since 1991, although he worked there in various capacities since 1988.

Boone was hinting that there is more expansion to come in MGM’s domestic distribution sector.

“We’re preparing ourselves, hopefully, to take on other product, as well as just the strengthening of the (existing) department,” he said.

“We know there are new possibilities coming toward the end of this decade and we have to stay on top of that. A lot of companies are getting into electronic highways and new forms of deliveries. We have to prepare ourselves to answer questions as they come down the pipe. I have a healthy respect for the past but I love the future,” Boone said with a laugh.

MGM has 1,300 prints of “Benny & Joon” playing in the U.S. and Canada. As of Thursday, the film had grossed $ 9.247 million, which Boone said was right on target.

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