Sony turns Leeward

New prod'n prez for TriStar; Josephson out

Chris Lee has been promoted to president of production at TriStar Pictures. At the same time, Columbia Pictures president of production Barry Josephson has decided to leave the studio to become a feature film producer.

Lee, 40, who has been at TriStar since 1985, moves up from exec VP to become the highest-ranking Asian-American ever to hold that position at a major Hollywood studio. Lee also becomes the top exec at TriStar. Sony will not name a president of the label to replace Robert Cooper, who left two weeks ago.

Josephson’s contract expires Oct. 1, but he will leave before that. Insiders noted that the management wanted Josephson to stay at Sony and he may end up in a producing deal there, possibly in combination with one of the filmmakers with whom he has worked.

Although questions continue to surface about Sony’s plans for TriStar, one thing is certain: The brand name has become too valuable for Sony to eliminate. One scenario making the rounds is that Sony could use the TriStar brand to lure outside financing for production. Nothing apparently has been decided except that TriStar will continue as a going production concern for the next few years.

The Yale-educated Lee was a likely choice for the TriStar post, which reports to Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group vice chair Lucy Fisher and co-vice chair Gareth Wigan. They in turn report to SPE president and COO John Calley.

Columbia Pictures president Amy Pascal also reports to Calley. Josephson’s position will not be filled, but Pascal will take over responsibilities previously handled by Josephson.

Josephson was the first executive appointment made by Mark Canton when Canton took the reins of Columbia in 1991 and was considered one of the last executives with strong ties to the former regime.

With Josephson leaving, Columbia loses the one executive who has been responsible for big-budget action fare. He oversaw “Bad Boys,” “Money Train,” “Anaconda,” “The Fifth Element,” “The Devil’s Own,” “Men in Black” and “Air Force One.”

Lee has been serving as the exec on TriStar’s big-budget event pictures “Godzilla” and “Starship Troopers,” so there is no rush to hire a replacement exec to oversee those types of pics.

Assistants welcome

Lee, who celebrated his appointment Friday at the SkyBar with about 15 to 20 members of TriStar’s creative group (which included creative executives and assistants), said he will continue to have personal oversight over those two projects and said it “was too early to tell” if he would indeed hire a big-budget specialist.

Production execs Amy Baer, Lauren Lloyd and Rob Levine will now report to Lee.

Lee noted that he doesn’t believe in bringing in a slew of writers on a project. “On a lot of my projects, I work with the same writer. I think that’s important for a singular vision,” he said. Lee has been the exec on such films as “The Fisher King,” “Philadelphia” and “Legends of the Fall.” He is also keenly interested in remaking John Woo’s “The Killers.”

Lee started his career in Hollywood as a freelance script reader and worked as assistant story editor and director of creative affairs before being named VP of production in 1989. He has the most longevity among the production execs at TriStar and was named exec VP of production in 1994.

Asked about his beginnings, Lee said: “When I came into the business 12 years ago, I knew that the Sydney Pollacks and Dick Donners of the world didn’t need to talk to me, so I went out to find other filmmakers who were starting out just like me. I got to know Roland Emmerich and John Woo. I grew up in Hawaii, so I grew up as much on Asian cinema as I did on American cinema.” Before joining TriStar, he worked in physical production as a first assistant director and assistant editor on the Wayne Wang film “Dim Sum.”

“I’m fortunate to have gotten where I am today, and I feel enormously grateful to the filmmakers I’ve gotten to work with such as Jonathan Demme, Cameron Crowe, Jim Brooks, Paul Verhoeven, Ed Zwick and Roland Emmerich,” he said. “Now I am lucky enough to be working with Sydney Pollack, but I will always have an open mind with people’s work and continue to seek out new talent and nurture it.”

A studio of readers

He noted that other execs at the studio also started as readers. “I see a real meritocracy at work here with the people I work with and report to. Many of these executives started as readers. Calley is all about the work, the merit of the material and not the merit of the deal.”

Josephson has been with Columbia since 1991, when he joined as senior VP of production.

He is known for his ambition and as a go-getter for material. In addition to the high-profile actioners, among productions Josephson handled over the years were Luc Besson’s “The Professional” and the family film “My Girl.” He also worked on the Arnold Schwarzenegger film “Last Action Hero” and survived that debacle.

When Sony restructured its management team this past year, naming Calley, then Wigan, Fisher and Pascal to senior positions, questions arose about the future of Josephson. However, insiders said Josephson was asked to stay.

Rumors of his departure have been circulating for months, however. They intensified in December when Calley wooed Turner Pictures president Pascal back to the studio as president of Columbia. Pascal, who was responsible for bringing in and developing “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” had been one of the victims of the Time-Warner/Turner Broadcasting System merger, which resulted in the folding of Turner Pictures.

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