House looks more toward independent producers

Fine Line Features, experiencing a diaspora of major proportions, announced Friday that prexy Ruth Vitale and exec VP of marketing Liz Manne were stepping down and that exec VP of acquisitions Mark Ordesky would take over as president of the arty specialty house.

Fine Line also named Marian Koltai-Levine and Brian Caldwell co-senior VPs of marketing.

Vitale has been flirting with Paramount Pictures about a post creating a classics division, but no deal has been signed yet. She plans to help Ordesky with the transition this week and will leave for a monthlong vacation next week.

Sources said Manne, meanwhile, is in talks for a senior management position in a Polygram Filmed Entertainment division.

The announcements come on the heels of exec VP Jonathan Weisgal’s departure last week for Jersey Films, where he will start up a Gotham-based, low-budget feature division as a partner with Danny DeVito and Michael Shamberg (Daily Variety, Jan. 7).

The moves culminate two years of confusion at Fine Line over where the company was headed. For the last six months, Ordesky and Weisgal had been offered posts as co-presidents, a deal that went south when Weisgal went to Jersey.

Vitale was forced into a lame-duck situation at Fine Line two years ago at the Cannes Film Festival when rumors began to surface that she might leave the company.

“A lot of people had conjectured about it before we had conjectured about it,” New Line Cinema president and chief operating officer Michael Lynne said. “Ruth had wanted to move on and we wanted to move in a different direction. It was a very mutual thing to do.”

He said Vitale’s career had focused on development and production and that she had brought that focus to Fine Line. “In the future, we’re not abandoning development and production but looking in a more substantive way to outside independent producers to provide product for us both at an early stage, at the script stage, and also finished product which we’ll acquire.”

Ordesky was thus the obvious choice for the top job: For about five years, he had been Fine Line’s head of acquisitions, and will keep that title along with the new one.

“He will have substantial wherewithal to be an aggressive player in the arena that Fine Line operates in,” Lynne said.

Ordesky, 34, who joined New Line in 1989 as a story editor and rose through the acquisition ranks, will take over Fine Line with only a handful of staffers.

“The material that we acquire will be aimed immediately toward packaging and production,” Ordesky said.

It was unlikely, he said, that Fine Line would hire any more staffers in the near future. He added that the house would release no less than 10 to 12 films per year.

Ordesky has long been known on the festival and market circuit as one of the hardest workers around. He is often spotted in Cannes beating a path down the Croisette with his ever-present backpack.

He has been instrumental in the acquisition of such pics as “Little Odessa,” “Once Were Warriors,” “Passion in the Desert,” “The Theory of Flight,” “The Sweet Hereafter” and “Shine.”

He is now involved in developing James Ellroy’s novel “White Jazz” and John Waters’ upcoming “Pecker.”

Vitale took over the reins of Fine Line three years ago from former prexy and co-founder Ira Deutchman. At the time, Vitale restructured the division’s focus, favoring mid-sized productions. During her tenure, Fine Line released such pics as the Oscar-winning “Shine,” “Twelfth Night,” “Gummo,” “Love! Valour! Compassion!,” “The Sweet Hereafter,” “Deconstructing Harry,” “The Winter Guest” and the upcoming “Theory of Flight,” “Legend of the Pianist on the Ocean” and “Passion in the Desert.”

“I leave here proud of our many accomplishments, ranging from ‘Shine’ to ‘The Winter Guest,’ ” Vitale said.

Manne, who co-founded Fine Line with Deutchman seven years ago, was responsible for creating successful marketing campaigns for such pics as “Hoop Dreams,” “Shine” and “The Player.”

Koltai-Levine and Caldwell will take over Manne’s duties. Koltai-Levine is the former senior VP of publicity, and Caldwell was VP of advertising for the arthouse. They will report to Mitch Goldman, prexy of distribution and marketing.

The changes come at a time when the company is on an upswing with the critically lauded releases of “Deconstructing Harry” and “The Sweet Hereafter.”

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