MGM’s newest lion: Nathanson

In a move that brings a veteran production exec into a production-starved studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. chairman Frank Mancuso has tapped New Regency Prods. chairman and CEO Michael Nathanson to head up MGM Pictures.

As president and chief operating officer of the film unit, Nathanson replaces Mike Marcus, who ankled the post last week (Daily Variety, Feb. 5). His appointment is the second replacement of a division head at the studio since Lindsay Doran took over as president of United Artists, following the departure of John Calley for Sony last summer.

In a statement, Mancuso said, “Michael’s strong relationships with the creative community, as well as his successful track record in production and marketing, will be significant driving forces in renewing the vitality of MGM.” Mancuso noted that New Regency topper Arnon Milchan “has been extremely cooperative and generous, and the transition will be smooth and effective.”

Ongoing talks

Part of the reason for the smooth transition is that Mancuso has been in discussions with Nathanson for a while, according to sources close to the studio. Some of the ongoing discussions involve co-production possibilities between New Regency and MGM on at least one picture and perhaps more, with Warner Bros. taking international rights and MGM handling domestic.

Milchan was traveling to Europe and unavailable for comment. But David Matalon, the company’s president, said Nathanson’s departure comes with their blessing. Nathanson had a year remaining on his contract, and Regency had a two-year option beyond that.

Matalon added that they discussed Nathanson’s move jointly with Mancuso, and the possibility of co-financed projects came out of those talks.

“We are very happy for Michael and we are very happy for Regency,” Matalon said. “We think this will bring us further business with MGM.”

Nathanson said, “The opportunities, timing and growth potential at MGM are unique in our industry now, and it was an irresistible and exciting chance to be part of building a dynamic studio.

“I decided that it was a wonderful and extraordinary opportunity and a dream that I have had for some time,” Nathanson added.

At New Regency, Nathanson oversaw such pics as “A Time To Kill,” “Tin Cup,” “Natural Born Killers,” “Heat,” “Copycat” and two installments of the “Free Willy” franchise.

Nathanson joined New Regency in 1994 from Columbia Pictures, where as a production exec during the Peter Guber-Jon Peters regime from 1989 to 1994 he oversaw such films as “Awakenings,” “The Prince of Tides,” “Boyz N the Hood” and “A River Runs Through It,” among others.

Nathanson began his career as a production assistant on “The Deep,” a Guber production, and has held production exec posts at MGM, UA and Warner Bros. He has been a production exec under such studio bosses as Guy McElwaine, Dawn Steel and David Puttnam.

Company at a crossroads

Nathanson’s departure comes at an important juncture for New Regency. Its deal with Warner Bros. expires in May 1998, although Milchan has the right to talk to others come May of this year.

Regency officials expect to fill Nathanson’s post by then, with Matalon assuming his duties in the interim.

Regency has become the studio’s most prolific producer, although it should be noted that many of its successes — such as “A Time to Kill” and “Tin Cup” — were co-financed and developed with Warner Bros.

And while its self-financed “Copycat” was a success in 1995, Regency had its share of misses last year with projects it financed on its own, such as “Bogus,” “Sunchaser” and “Carpool.”

Regency officials estimate that they have a low ratio of projects in development on their own to those that get made — Matalon estimates it at 2-1. “We want to limit it to projects we believe that will be front of the camera,” he said.

The company has recently lined up new partners, such as Samsung and the Kirch Group, and recently purchased Restless Records.

One investment, however, that eluded them was MGM last year. Had they been successful, Nathanson conceivably could have found himself in the same spot.

Said the future MGM exec: “That is one of the great ironies in life.”

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