Specialty arm gets Endeavor partner

A correction was made to this article on November 3, 2005.

After weeks of speculation, Endeavor partner John Lesher is exiting the agency biz to become prexy of Paramount Pictures’ specialty arm, Paramount Classics.

Lesher, 40, is replacing departing co-heads Ruth Vitale and David Dinerstein, whose contract was not picked up by Par chair Brad Grey.

The studio has been seeking a new head for its specialty arm for months; candidates have included producer Michael London, Picturehouse’s Bob Berney and Lions Gate’s Tom Ortenberg.

Lesher is said to have been working on a deal for nine months.

Lesher has no experience in film production. Neither studio chairman Brad Grey nor prexy Gail Berman — former head of Fox Television — had film production background either.

“Now you have a studio where most of the top people have no experience making movies. They are all successful in what they’ve done but actually making movies is not an easy job,” one agency insider said.

Lesher will bring to the table at Par the strong talent relationships that can land his clients in the specialty division’s slate.

Brainy and iconoclastic, Lesher didn’t follow the typical agent path of an MBA or law degree; instead, he studied Chinese literature at Harvard.

During his agenting career, Lesher gained a reputation for having one of the strongest, if not the strongest, list of auteurs in town. He is also known for his offbeat personality in a profession where slickness is de rigueur. He has worked with such helmers as Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Walter Salles, Fernando Meirelles, Sydney Pollack and Kimberly Peirce. (He did not work with the latter two at Endeavor.)

Lesher joined Endeavor in February 2002, becoming the agency’s 10th partner after spending 14 years at UTA. Because Lesher had such a long run at UTA, reps at that agency were in a bit of a feeding frenzy Wednesday, trying to land some of Lesher’s hot helmers.

“Any agent in town with a phone number for one of his clients has definitely used it,” commented one top agent.

Nevertheless, one Endeavor agent said Lesher’s exit “didn’t blindside anyone here,” adding that the agency is believed to have retained almost all the clients on his roster.

Pics on the Par Classics slate include “Ask the Dust” and Craig Brewer’s follow-up to “Hustle & Flow,” “Black Snake Moan.”

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