Exec's appointment caps turbulent year

Paramount Pictures has tapped veteran producer Donald De Line to succeed John Goldwyn in its top production post in a three-year deal.

Move is likely to portend further changes at Par, such as the naming of a new marketing chief this week. De Line, whose background includes a stint as prexy of Disney’s Touchstone Pictures, had emerged as the leading candidate for the post (Daily Variety, Dec. 19).

Sunday’s announcement came less than a month after Goldwyn decided to segue into an exclusive production deal with Par and depart from his posts as vice chair, Motion Picture Group, and president of Paramount Pictures.

De Line, whose appointment is effective Jan. 5, will report to studio chief Sherry Lansing and will share the vice chair slot with Rob Friedman and studio presidency with Tom Jacobson.

Lansing told Daily Variety she was attracted by the combo of De Line’s experience as producer and exec, his enthusiasm and talent relations. She noted her career path had followed a similar arc of studio exec to producer and back to studio exec.

“For me, this is a real coup,” Lansing added. “I have a wonderful, wonderful partner who understands the business from both sides of the fence. Donald is incredibly well respected in the industry. I am thrilled that he has agreed to leave his production company to lead our production team.”

DeLine’s remake of “The Italian Job” was one of Par’s few bright spots this year, becoming its top ’03 grosser with $106 million domestically. He also produced buddy comedy “Without a Paddle,” due out in April, and co-produced with Scott Rudin a remake of “The Stepford Wives,” starring Nicole Kidman and set for a June launch.

The exec, who’s been at Par since ’98, plans to reassign producing duties on the rest of his development slate, including a pair of comedies which had been moving toward green-light status — “Let’s Make Friends” with Jesse Dylan helming and “It’s Not You, It’s Me,” with Peter Segal (“Anger Management”) recently signed to direct.

Relationships in place

De Line said his tenure as a producer and his already-established relationships with Lansing, Viacom Entertainment Group chief Jonathan Dolgen and vice chair Robert Friedman should simplify the transition into his new slot. His deals with Par included several Disney/Par co-productions when he was at Touchstone, such as “Face/Off.”

“I’ve had only great experiences so far at the studio and that has given me a real shorthand with Sherry, Jonathan and Rob,” he added.

The appointment comes at the end of a sluggish year for Par, which registered tepid returns from “The Hunted,” “The Core,” “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life,” “Beyond Borders,” “Marci X” and “Timeline.” Studio brass insist that Par remains profitable due to its adherence to risk-sharing on financing but admit they are disappointed over recent performance.

Lansing and De Line both indicated that Par — which carries a reputation for preferring middle-of-the-road projects — has begun to seek a somewhat broader mix of pix for development. “We are going to have a broad, eclectic slate,” Lansing said.

“We will make big, medium and small movies,” De Line added. “It’s very exciting and very challenging because there’s such a wealth of talent among executives and the producing pool. There’s also a great tradition at Paramount — it really is one of the great studios”

Key question in the minds of studio watchers remains whether parent Viacom will loosen what has been widely perceived as among the tightest purse strings for Hollywood’s majors. “We are not hamstrung financially at all,” Lansing said on Sunday.

Negotiations with De Line began about two weeks ago following his return from New Zealand, where he’d been wrapping up work on “Without a Paddle.”

His duties as president of the Motion Picture Group include being directly responsible for the slate of films by overseeing acquisition of literary properties, development, budgeting, casting and production.

Execs on the move

De Line’s appointment caps an uncommonly turbulent year for Par, which had been the model of stability since Lansing arrived as topper a dozen years ago. In addition to Goldwyn’s departure, veteran exec Jacobson joined the studio in January; senior VP of production Chip Diggins ankled in August; worldwide marketing prexy Arthur Cohen departed in September; and longtime production exec Dede Gardner left last month to become president of Warner-based Plan B.

De Line spent eight years at Touchstone Pictures, was named president in 1993 and oversaw “Pretty Woman,” “Sister Act,” “Phenomenon,” “Ransom,” “Con-Air,” “Armageddon” and “The Waterboy.”

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