Rice cooks at Fox

Niche arm Searchlight taps production prez

Fox Searchlight has found a new light in Peter Rice. On Tuesday, the 20th Century Fox executive veep was named prexy of production of the studio’s independent label.

Rice replaces Lindsay Law, who ankled his Searchlight post to take a first-look deal with Fox (Daily Variety, Jan. 7, 1999) and oversee the division’s musical stage production of “The Full Monty.” Rice assumes the post Feb. 1.

Said Fox Filmed Entertainment Chairman, Bill Mechanic: “Peter Rice began his career here at Fox and made his mark by finding and working with exciting new directors on innovative projects. His taste and instincts in large part define how we see the world of Searchlight developing — around electric and daring projects with the best young, as well as independently-minded experienced, talent we can find.”

Rice said: “When Bill Mechanic asked me to join Searchlight, it was an easy decision. They have a great cadre of execs and it’s an interesting challenge. Lindsay has really created a great company — these guys made the biggest little hit in history, ‘The Full Monty.’ ”

“Part of what we intend to make is films targeted to niche audiences,” continued Rice. “Opportunities exist to make movies for teens, African-American audiences, Latinos. If there is an editorial slant to Searchlight, it is that we need to be original and provocative. That’s how you cut through the marketplace.”

At Fox, Rice has cultivated relationships with many young filmmakers, including Danny Boyle, Bryan Singer, Baz Luhrmann, Alex Proyas and the Hughes Brothers. He is overseeing Boyle’s “The Beach” and Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge,” now before cameras in Australia.

Rice served as the production executive on Luhrmann’s “Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet” and worked on the helmer’s first pic with Fox, “Strictly Ballroom.”

Reached on his “Moulin Rouge” set in Australia, Luhrmann said: “If anyone is positioned to create a cutting-edge new culture in film, Peter is. He is the kind of exec who is not an exec, in the sense that he is truly involved in the next wave of filmmaking culture. Large organizations need to be setting up smaller units, because culture is so radically changing minute by minute.”Singer, who met Rice after his film “Public Access” played at Sundance in 1993 and who has remained close to the exec, said: “Peter is a rare combination of experience and vitality that a company like Fox Searchlight will fully benefit from. He cares very much about the projects he works on, and brings out the creative best in people.”

Almost exactly one year ago, Rice was promoted to executive vice president at Fox from senior VP.

In his tenure at 20th Century Fox, Rice was an exec on such pics as “Independence Day” and “Alien” but it is his reputation for maintaining good relationships with talent that most distinguishes his work at the studio.

In particular, Rice has stayed close to the type of filmmakers who make smaller films that manage to make a mark in the mainstream — including Luhrmann, Singer and Boyle (“Trainspotting” and “A Life Less Ordinary”). Recently, he has been overseeing “X-Men,” directed by Bryan Singer (“The Usual Suspects”).

Rice joined Fox nine years ago, after graduating from the University of Nottingham. He became director of acquisitions in Oct. 1994 and later moved up the production ranks.

Searchlight’s upcoming slate includes “The Closer You Get,” directed by Aileen Ritchie and produced by Uberto Pasolini; “Woman on Top,” directed by Tina Torres and starring Penelope Cruz; “Quills,” directed by Philip Kaufman and starring Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix and Michael Caine; and “Soft Fruit,” written and directed by Christina Andreef — a pic that preems at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

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