Diller Buy Spells Doom For Savoy Pictures Staffers

Less than a week after Barry Diller bought Savoy Pictures for its TV and cash holdings, Savoy toppers Victor Kaufman and Lew Korman dropped the ax. Blood flowed through Savoy corridors Dec. 1, as virtually the entire film staff, upwards of 80 people, was laid off, sources said. A few execs with contracts were temporarily spared, but insiders figured that by early next year, just about every key exec – including Savoy Pictures president Rob Fried – will have resigned or been let go.

Staffers didn’t need Dick Tracy’s credentials to detect a pending massacre, following Savoy’s decision to move away from film financing and distribution, its shopping of 14 projects and subsequent sale of distribution rights on four films to New Line Cinema. Still, the staff was shocked by the abruptness of the layoffs, with victims packing their belongings all day after getting axed by curt phone calls. Severance pay was not said to be generous, though neither Kaufman nor Savoy returned calls.

When Diller and Savoy chairman Kaufman announced the sale last week, they indicated their feature biz would be backburnered for up to two years, after existing product was either distributed or sold off. The move caught many by surprise, including Rysher Entertainment, for which Savoy just opened “White Man’s Burden” the day it unburdened itself of most staffers.

“We’re shocked and don’t really know what to make of it,” Rysher exec veep Jim Burke said Dec. 1. “This is an important day for the film, the day you release it, and to have massive terminations at Savoy is just numbing. And the fact that we heard it on the street is even worse.” Rysher has two more finished films due to be distribbed by the Savoy skeleton crew.

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