Berman joins Grey behind studio's gates
This article was updated at 7:45 p.m.
The Brad Grey-Gail Berman era has officially begun at Paramount.
Grey announced Wednesday that Berman, Fox Entertainment president for the past five years, will succeed Donald De Line as Par president.
Announcement came eight days after news broke that Berman was in talks with Par. She plans to start at the studio in May, after the start of sweeps, but will spend most of her time in the interim working at Fox, which tapped Peter Liguori as her successor last week.
“I have to do a lot of work at Fox still,” she said. “There are a lot of pilots to get ready before I can leave for Paramount.”
The hiring of Berman — a respected TV exec with no feature background — underlines the desire by Grey and Viacom co-president Tom Freston to shake up Paramount, which has been hobbled by underperforming films for the past four years. For the past year, the studio’s been trying to shed its reputation as cautious and unfriendly to top talent.
Berman — whose tenure at Fox includes “24,” “American Idol” and “The OC” — noted she has a strong track record in working on small-screen projects with filmmakers such as Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Paul Attanasio, Bryan Singer, Arnon Milchan and Betty Thomas. And she stressed a key goal will be assuring that Hollywood’s creative community has the confidence to bring major projects to Paramount.
“I recognize that there is skepticism about my background so I come into this with a great deal of humility,” Berman told Daily Variety. “The bottom line is going to be fostering an environment where creative ideas will transfer into great films.”
Berman will report directly to Grey, who took over March 1 for longtime studio chief Sherry Lansing. She’ll oversee Par’s slate of films, including acquisition of lit properties, development, budgeting, casting and production.
“Gail is one of the most respected and talented executives in the entertainment industry, and her work as a producer has earned her enormous admiration among the creative community,” Grey said in a statement.
He lauded her “brilliant eye” for compelling stories and long track record for inspiring creativity and excellence, most recently at Fox, where she took the network to the top of the ratings game.
“Not only does Gail have strong talent relationships but also strategic and proven business instincts,” he added. Grey also singled out De Line, who’s been in the president’s slot for 14 months, for praise and said discussions were continuing about his future role. He told Daily Variety that it’s likely De Line, who produced “The Italian Job” and “Without a Paddle” for Par, will produce several projects for the studio but did not specify which ones.
Grey acknowledged that his own arrival and Berman’s appointment has created uncertainty at the Melrose Avenue lot.
“Change is never easy, and I know that some of you may be feeling unsettled as we down this new path together,” he said in an email to Par employees. “I want you to know that I understand your concerns and I appreciate your support as we create a new and exciting future for this great studio.”
More exec uncertainty
Uncertainty over its exec structure puts Par in a tenuous position for the coming weeks. An expected deal to name exec VP Alli Shearmur and Dimension co-prexy Brad Weston as co-presidents of production hasn’t been finalized nor have the future roles of current co-prexy Tom Jacobson and president of production Karen Rosenfelt.
The studio’s expected to see improved performance this year with a slate mostly assembled by Lansing and De Line, including “The Longest Yard,” “War of the Worlds,” “The Honeymooners,” “Bad News Bears,” “Elizabethtown,” “Ask the Dust,” “Aeon Flux,” “Last Holiday” and “The Weather Man.” Grey made his first major deal for Sundance sensation “Hustle and Flow,” due out in July.
Grey asserted Wednesday that Par will remain a significant player on the development front in coming weeks. During his monthlong tenure, the studio’s made high-profile deals:
- Paying over $20 million for the rights to star-driven drama “Babel,” with Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Gael Garcia Bernal attached and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu directing.
- Getting into business with Ron Howard and Brian Grazer by buying historical saga “The Serpent and the Eagle” in turnaround from Universal and paying Brian Helgeland $2 million for a rewrite.
- Paying close to $2 million for comedy spec “Stalker: A Love Story” with Owen Wilson attached.
- Buying comedy spec “Senior Week” for Lorne Michaels and John Goldwyn with comedy writer Pam Brady attached as a first-time director, which would have been unthinkable during Lansing’s regime.
- Signing Japanese director Hideo Nakata (“The Ring 2”) to direct “The Eye.”
Berman said Grey first approached her about the Paramount post several weeks ago.
“I found the idea of a different platform very intriguing,” she said Wednesday. “This really came to me at the right time and place.”
Grey said he’s unconcerned about Berman’s ability to handle the challenges of the new position.
“The movie business is about great ideas, storytelling, nurturing talent and marketing an idea well,” he said. “She’s going to be a stunning success.”