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Pascal named Columbia prexy

In Sony Pictures Entertainment topper John Calley’s first major outside executive hire, Turner Pictures prexy of production Amy Pascal will return to Columbia Pictures as president of the studio effective early next year, Col announced Sunday.

Pascal, who was in play after Turner announced its absorption by Warner Bros. a few weeks ago, will report directly to SPE prexy and chief operating officer Calley.

But she will work closely with Lucy Fisher, vice chairman of Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Cos., and the senior Colpix exec team that includes Barry Josephson, prexy of production, and exec VP Gareth Wigan, who will be bumped up to a senior SPE slot.

“Everyone (at the studio) was excited by the prospect of (hiring Pascal) and recognized her capacity,” Calley said.

Pascal, 38, will remain with Turner for another month or so to oversee the transition of its projects to Warner Bros., which announced recently that Turner would be integrated into WB as part of the Time Warner-Turner Broadcasting System merger.

Pascal comes back to Columbia after two years of creating and running Turner’s production division. She had been an exec with Columbia from 1987-94, overseeing the development and production of such B.O. hits as “Little Women,” “A League of Their Own” and “Groundhog Day.” Other Col pics she set up and saw succeed after she left included the Oscar-winning “Sense and Sensibility” and “The Craft.”

She was responsible for bringing in and developing “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” which is set for limited release Dec. 27 and is drawing positive notices.

Pascal will be reunited with such projects as “Girl Interrupted,” which is being set up for Winona Ryder to topline and James Mangold to direct, and “A Simple Wedding,” from a script by Callie Khouri. She helped bring them into Col with producer Doug Wick.

Longtime admirer

A longtime admirer of Pascal’s work, Calley said he tried to hire her when he took over United Artists three years ago, but she stayed put with Columbia.

Pascal said now that she is eager to come back to Col, even though it’s an entirely different studio with a completely altered cadre of senior execs at SPE.

“It didn’t make sense for me to be there in the position I was in when I was there two years ago,” Pascal said. “I think I can learn a lot from John Calley. He’s probably the classiest, smartest guy in this business.”

Pascal would not say whether any of her Turner staff – which includes production execs Matt Tolmach, Kristine Belson and Elizabeth Cantillon – would accompany her to Columbia. But she said she would decide with Josephson any additions that might be made to the Col exec ranks.

Pascal takes over a position once held by Lisa Henson, who left several months ago to set up a production company with Janet Yang on the Sony lot. Nearly the entire senior management staff at SPE has been replaced in recent months, including former chairman Alan Levine, former chairman of Col TriStar Mark Canton, former prexy of Col TriStar Fred Bernstein, former president of TriStar Pictures Marc Platt and Henson.

Producers buzzing

The changes already have producers on the lot buzzing that Sony will be back in business as a real studio again. Pascal is “perfect to take over that position in Calley’s world,” one producer said. “She understands the difference between quirky pictures and commercial pictures and how to make both work.”

At Turner, Pascal put together a slate of star-driven, big-budget pictures, a strategy that Calley is hoping she can reproduce for Columbia and Sony.

But Calley maintained that decisions for both Col and TriStar under the new regime will not be fully made until the new budget is pounded out in the coming months.

“We’re getting a handle on how many pictures we want to make and what our final structure will be,” Calley said. “The possibility of making a deal with Amy preempted that.”

Stressing a “collegial” atmosphere for the studio, Calley said the studio would not be about egos. “It’s not general. It’s very specific,” he said. “If a great piece of material comes along and she’s got a shot it, we’re going to step up.”

Calley said Pascal will also perfectly complement Josephson with respect to the type of material they bring to the studio. Josephson currently has actioners “Men in Black,” with Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, and Luc Besson’s “Fifth Element,” starring Bruce Willis, set for release next year.

Turner’s John Travolta starrer “Michael,” distribbed by New Line Cinema, is due out Dec. 25, and the early buzz has been positive. Other pics Pascal had in various stages of production included: “Fallen,” starring Denzel Washington; “City of Angels,” with Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan; and “Edwards and Hunt: The First American Road Trip,” featuring Chris Farley and Matthew Perry.

Before her stint at Columbia, Pascal was a VP of production at 20th Century Fox.

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