Rethinking the Classics

How does Par plan on mixing prestige, edginess, commerciality?

It’s been more than a year since Viacom’s Tom Freston signaled a much more aggressive course for Paramount Classics.

The question, now that the specialty division has parted company with co-prexies David Dinerstein and Ruth Vitale, is who’s going to steer that course?

Freston and Paramount chairman Brad Grey want to take advantage of the huge upside in low-cost non-tentpoles like “Sideways,” “Fahrenheit 9/11,” “Garden State” and “Napoleon Dynamite.” But they haven’t yet defined the banner’s identity.

Will it lean more toward artpics like “The Singing Detective” and “Asylum” or toward fare like “Hustle & Flow,” the urban youth pic that Grey picked up at Sundance as his first acquisition as head of the company?

The shingle’s also begun producing its own films such as “Black Snake Moan” and Jonathan Demme‘s documentary of a Neil Young concert. But ramping it up further means articulating how Paramount Classics plans to mix prestige, edginess and commerciality.

Grey will offer a strong indication when he hires a new chief for the division, be it a dealmaker like Cinetic media’s John Sloss, an indie producer like Michael London (“Sideways”), a sales and distribution exec like Weinstein Co.’s Glen Basner or an indie label exec like Lions Gate president Tom Ortenberg, who’s emerged as the leading candidate.

Ortenberg’s viewed as a credible choice due to his background in dealing with the nuances of a range of indie films, including “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

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