Sony promotes its Spidey squad

Pascal, Landau and Blake climb the ranks

In a move that both recognizes the importance of the digital future and rewards the team behind “Spider-Man,” Sony Pictures Entertainment is promoting three execs to top management posts.

Columbia Pictures chairman Amy Pascal, Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment prexy Yair Landau and Sony worldwide marketing and distribution prexy Jeff Blake will be elevated to co-equal corporate posts reporting to SPE chairman and CEO John Calley.

While their titles are still being spelled out, the trio’s promotions will significantly change the current SPE reporting structure, under which Blake and Landau report to SPE co-prexy and chief operating officer Mel Harris.

Harris, 60, is expected to ankle in September when his contract expires. Sony will then abolish the position of SPE chief operating officer, with the duties formerly performed by Harris being shared by the triumvirate of Pascal, Blake and Landau.

The moves were masterminded by Sony Corp. of America chairman-CEO Howard Stringer, who was in Tokyo and could not be reached for comment.

The promotions come as Sony’s Columbia Pictures — led by Pascal and Col production prexy Peter Schlessel — is enjoying its hottest streak in five years, on track to easily surpass its record 1997 box office watermark of $1.26 billion.

SPE chief financial officer Bedi Singh, chief administrative officer Beth Berke and film group biz & ops prexy Ben Feingold had previously reported to Harris. They are now expected to have reporting lines to Pascal, Blake and Landau.

Meanwhile, Schlessel is expected to take on additional supervisory duties at Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group. New duties will include supervision of business affairs for the group, which lost its SPE co-prexy Kenneth Lemberger to retirement in March.

Named to the post of co-prexy of SPE in October 2000, Lemberger had worked closely with Harris in managing SPE’s worldwide operations and had overseen global business, financial and administrative activities of Sony’s feature film companies.

So far this year, B.O. for Col’s “Spider-Man” has crested $770 million worldwide, while the sequel to 1997’s “Men in Black” has opened to a robust $230 million worldwide. Adam Sandler laffer “Mr. Deeds” has taken a healthy $108 million domestically.

Blake became the studio’s first-ever boss for both worldwide marketing and distribution two years ago, and on his watch Sony has moved up and out of last place into first place in domestic box office share.

Landau, as head of SPE’s digital ops, oversees Imageworks, the key entity behind the effects on franchises like “Stuart Little” and “Spider-Man.” He also has oversight of a recently established feature animation unit, whose first project “Astro Boy” was recently unveiled.

The promotion should be especially gratifying to Pascal, who started her career there, then did a stint at Turner Pictures, returning to take the helm at Sony’s production unit six years ago.

At Columbia she weathered a couple of rough years while readying sequels to “Bad Boys” and “Men in Black” — and creating original franchise movies “Spider-Man,” “Charlie’s Angels” and “Stuart Little.”

Still unclear is what will become of Calley, 71, who is understood to have recently requested a two-year extension on his contract, set to expire in March 2003. He joined Sony in October 1996 as president and chief operating officer and was named chief executive officer in May 1998.

A search for his successor began in earnest last year, with speculation that Joe Roth, head of the Sony-based Revolution Studios, could be persuaded to take the job. That has yet to happen.

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