13-year studio vet tapped to head up new 20th wing

Tom Sherak, who has been widely recognized as the driving force behind the remarkable success of “Independence Day,” has been promoted to chairman of 20th Domestic Film Group, a newly formed division of Fox Filmed Entertainment.

The promotion solidifies Sherak’s ranking as the No. 3 executive at the studio and ends speculation he might leave for another studio.

“This promotion reflects our commitment to Tom and his importance to us in the rebuilding of Fox. His talent relationships, vast experienced in the film industry and his executive skills will be put to even greater use in his new position,” said Bill Mechanic, chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment, in announcing Sherak’s promo-tion.

Sherak, who has been at Fox for 13 years and through nine regimes, retains his title of senior executive vice president and will continue to oversee distribution. However, as head of the new division, Sherak will further segue from line executive duties to a more senior corporate function, managing post-production and various special projects such as the 20th-anniversary re-release of “Star Wars.”

He unofficially has been overseeing post-production activities since Jon Landau vacated his production post in 1995 to become an independent producer.

“This company has been home to my family and me for over 13 years,” Sherak said. “I am grateful to Rupert Murdoch, Peter Chernin and Bill Mechanic for their continued support. I welcome this extraordinary opportunity to run this division and to continue my long-standing relationship with a company that has positioned itself as one of the leaders of the entertainment industry.”

Sherak will continue to report to Mechanic, who was upped to his current post Dec. 11, a month after News Corp. chairman and CEO Murdoch promoted Chernin to president and chief operating officer of Fox parent company News Corp.

Eye on growth

Mechanic said Sherak’s promotion and the creation of the new division play into the company’s plan to cre-ate a formal structure that allows growth in new areas. While Sherak’s division will not include production over-sight or development, Mechanic did not rule out future expansion into other areas.

Sherak’s new contract with Fox runs six years. Some speculated he might leave Fox to work for his former boss Joe Roth at Disney, a claim Sherak and Roth deny.

“If Tom Sherak were ever to leave Fox, I’d love to have him,” Roth told Daily Variety. “But he’s a great friend, a great guy and they’re lucky to have him.”

While his new title will not put him into the creative side of film production, he will continue to have principal oversight on a number of key producers and directors with whom he has cultivated strong ties over the years — including George Lucas, James Cameron, Chris Columbus, Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich.

Sherak is credited with rallying the studio and exhibition community behind “Independence Day” during last year’s ShoWest confab.

Sherak also has been at the forefront of Fox’s efforts to promote the upgraded re-release of “Star Wars” and the film’s promotional ties to Pepsi. The announcement of Sherak’s promotion comes at a time when Fox is seeking to secure the distribution rights to the three prequels to “Star Wars.”

An enhancement

While Lucasfilm execs have stated that Fox is the first company they will approach for distributing the pre-quels, Sherak’s new contract enhances the studios ties to the projects.

“Tom is a great asset to Fox and a leader in the distribution community, so it’s a promotion that’s well-deserved,” Lucasfilm president Gordon Radley said.

Radley reiterated that Lucasfilm “will talk to Fox because of our relationship with them, but our decision is going to be based on who we feel will do the best job of distributing these films.”

Since joining Fox in 1983 as the president of domestic distribution and marketing, Sherak has supervised the marketing and distribution of such films as “Home Alone,” “Die Hard 2,” “Aliens” and “Big.”

In 1990 he was promoted to exec VP. He has served as senior VP of Fox Filmed Entertainment since the division was formed in December 1994.

Sherak joined Fox from General Cinema, where he was vice president and head film buyer.

Sherak would not discuss whether he had been in talks with other studios, but said, “While I think I could have gone somewhere else, Fox has been my home and my family for over 13 years and I feel like I’m part of the company.

“When that logo goes up on the screen, it still gives me chills and reminds me how great it is that I’m part of this company.”

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