Gerber out; Di Bonaventura flies solo as prod'n prez

In an abrupt decision late Tuesday, Warner Bros. parted ways with co-prexy of production Bill Gerber and upped Lorenzo Di Bonaventura to run production alone.

The moves are the latest by WB brass to restructure the production unit and put a troubled year at the box office behind them. It also marks the second recent high-level shuffle at a major studio following Thursday’s exec changes at Universal.

Gerber, who confirmed his departure, will step down to take “a comprehensive production deal” with Warner.

Months of buzz

Calling the new pact a “win-win situation on some level,” Gerber would not discuss specific projects, but said he already has several in mind.

Di Bonaventura will immediately take over as president of production. He could not be reached for comment.

Gerber’s resignation followed months of industry buzz about the internal structure at Warner.

Though Warner chairmen and co-CEO’s Bob Daly and Terry Semel run the studio as a team, questions arose about whether Gerber and Di Bonaventura could match that success by jointly heading up production. Both execs had been in their posts for only two years, having taken over from former president of production Bruce Berman.

Warner suffered misses over the last year with such pics as “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” “The Postman,” “Mad City,” “Father’s Day” and “Sphere,” all pricey star-driven, big-budget projects.

‘Angels’ flies

Only recently have the studio’s fortunes picked up with “City of Angels,” which has topped the box office charts for two weeks.

Warner management, which could not be reached for comment on Gerber’s exit Tuesday night, is expected to announce his departure Wednesday in a press release.

Meetings between Gerber and senior Warner execs went on until late Tuesday, as they negotiated the details of Gerber’s exit. Sources said both Gerber and Di Bonaventura had previously discussed production deals for themselves with upper management if major changes in the division were to occur.

“I think they’re right to have a sole head of production,” Gerber told Daily Variety. “I don’t think it’s productive to have two. There needs to be a boss. Bob and Terry are very special in their partnership and it’s not an easy one to duplicate.”

The Warner decision also put to rest months-old rumors about producer Mark Canton taking a senior production exec slot at the studio.

“There was no reality to those Canton rumors,” said one high-ranking exec. “We are having no conversations about bringing in any other third party to run production.”

Both Gerber and Di Bonaventura were held responsible for Warner’s disappointing year at the box office.

But sources said Gerber had additional difficulties with some execs and producers on the lot that led to his departure.

Writing on wall

The writing was on the wall, said one WB insider, when the studio announced the postponement of “Superman” last week.

Di Bonaventura made the official declaration, marking the first time only one of the co-presidents had made an announcement without the other. Warner Bros. had been conscientious about including both executives in all press matters.

Gerber had been with Warner in the exec ranks for the last 12 years. He joined as VP of production in 1986. He oversaw such projects as “L.A. Confidential,” “Unforgiven,” “JFK,” “Twister,” “Space Jam,” “Heat,” “Goodfellas,” as well as the upcoming “The Avengers,” “You’ve Got Mail” and “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”

Gerber also was influential in corraling such producer-directors as Oliver Stone and Barry Levinson in the past and more recently Canton with a production deal at the studio.

Gerber said he will be looking to staff up his own office on the lot in the coming months.

“They have given me a very signficant producing deal that I’m extremely grateful to have,” Gerber said. “They’ve been great to me for 12 years and I’m looking forward to my production deal.”

Both Warner and Universal had a lackluster 1997 at the box office, sparking speculation over the last few months about changes in their executive ranks. In November, former marketing president Chris Pula was let go by Daly and Semel after “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” flopped.

The shakeup Tuesday at Warner follows the exit from Universal of president of production Marc Platt, studio exec VP Howard Weitzman and marketing chiefs Buffy Shutt and Kathy Jones.

(Chris Petrikin contributed to this report.)

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