Warner Bros. pic topper ankles to go indie

This article was corrected on Sept. 9, 2002.

In a decision that stunned the entertainment community Tuesday, Lorenzo di Bonaventura stepped down as Warner Bros. exec VP of worldwide motion pictures to become an indie producer for the studio.

The move, effective immediately, surprised the town because not only is Warners’ movie division in good shape overall, but for more than a decade di Bonaventura has been one of Hollywood’s more ambitious and hard-working studio execs.

The first project di Bonaventura will produce for Warners is “Constantine,” a film based on the DC Comics property.

All employees who were under di Bonaventura now report to Warner Bros. prexy and chief operating officer Alan Horn. These include Jeff Robinov, who advanced to production president at the same time that di Bonaventura was upped.

It’s unclear if di Bonaventura’s vice chairman post will be filled; if it’s not, Robinov would become the highest-ranking film exec at the studio.

It’s also unclear what, if anything, di Bonaventura’s payout would be, since he had three years left on his contract as production prexy and the terms of his new arrangement as a supplier to the studio are still being worked out. It’s likely that whatever payout he does receive will be applied to his producer fees at the studio.

The timing of di Bonaventura’s exit is odd, given that he was promoted less than two months ago.

The studio’s new overseer, entertainment and networks group chairman Jeffrey Bewkes, was promoted only a week thereafter and has hardly had time to settle in to his new assignment.

Di Bonaventura oversaw the “Harry Potter” and “Matrix” franchises, though the recent flops “Pluto Nash” and “Showtime” also happened under his watch.

However, di Bonaventura had been vocal in disowning the big-budget “Pluto Nash,” which was developed by Castle Rock, a production shingle co-founded by Horn.

Horn left Castle Rock three years ago to take his current job, which made him di Bonaventura’s boss.

Different visions

From the outset, it was apparent that the two men had very different creative tastes as well as approaches to their work. Di Bonaventura, for example, was a passionate supporter of Denzel Washington starrer “Training Day,” which Horn initially found too dark.

Given the studio’s recent dominance at the box office, however, it seemed the two men had found common ground after a rocky start.

Di Bonaventura, 45, insisted that moving into the top corporate post actually made his decision to leave clearer.

“I’ve been doing this for 15 years without respite,” di Bonaventura told Daily Variety. “It wore me down. I’ve been thinking about it, off and on, for a couple of years. I just took this three-week trip on the Colorado River and when I came off it, I thought a lot about quality of life.”

He added that the timing was good, with shooting on “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” as well as the two “Matrix” sequels completed.

Corporate crunch

In a statement, di Bonaventura added, “I love filmmaking, but the more corporate the job became the less creative it became, and the less creative it became the less joyful it became. It was becoming patently clear to everyone around me, especially my family, that the further I got away from the creative process, the unhappier I was.”

The Harvard-educated son of a symphony conductor, di Bonaventura recently became a father for the second time.

However, as the studio’s top production exec, it was hard to find time for his wife and children. Stress also contributed to a chronic back problem.

Di Bonaventura publicly thanked the studio Tuesday for understanding his decision and for allowing him “to get back to stretching my creative muscles.”

Hands-on again

“Warner Bros. Pictures is in great shape and couldn’t be in better hands,” he said. “This new deal is a great win for me: I get to concentrate on doing what I love — making films — and I get to do it at the best studio in the world.”

Horn said, “We fully respect and support Lorenzo’s decision, and look forward to his new role as a producer for Warner Bros. Pictures. Lorenzo has helped shape what Warner Bros. Pictures is today and we are pleased to have him continue to contribute to our success.”

Di Bonaventura joined Warners in 1989 as a production exec and was promoted to VP production shortly thereafter. He was named senior VP of production in 1993 and exec VP of production in 1995.

In 1996, Di Bonaventura became the co-head of Warners’ theatrical production, assuming his position as sole president of Warners’ worldwide production in April 1998.

In July, he was named to the corporate post of exec VP, Worldwide Motion Pictures, Warner Bros., effectively assuming additional oversight of all feature film marketing.

Some of the hits produced under di Bonaventura include “The Matrix,” “Analyze This,” “Three Kings,” “The Perfect Storm,” “Training Day,” “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Scooby-Doo” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

“Bottom line?” said one agency topper. “Di Bonaventura got ‘The Matrix’ made when no one else would even touch it.”

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