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MGM builds Sands castle

Exec tapped to lead charge on digital library

Former DreamWorks and Miramax chief operating officer Rick Sands will take the same post at MGM under recently named CEO Harry Sloan.

Move was expected following former MGM prexy Dan Taylor’s announcement last week that he would resign from the Lion (Daily Variety, Jan. 27).

Sands has been tapped to lead a charge to better exploit MGM’s 4,000-title library, especially in new digital outlets, now that the studio has morphed into a small private unit owned by Sony, Comcast and a group of private equity players.

But Sands is also expected to help MGM begin to become once again a studio capable of financing and producing its own product. Some industryites have been looking to the Lion to fill such a role in the changing entertainment landscape now that Miramax Films has been downsized and DreamWorks has been snapped up by Paramount.

“There’s a growth plan for the company,” Sands told Daily Variety on Monday. “Initially, we’ll start with the (intellectual property) we currently own. We’ll discuss expansion plans at a later date.”

For the time being, MGM is concentrating on co-producing films with Sony, including the upcoming “Casino Royale” and “Rocky Balboa” (with Revolution also on board for the latter pic). Other pics are supposedly in development, though no future co-productions have formally been unveiled.

Though MGM is allowed to terminate its deal for Sony to distribute its pics in theatrical and homevideo as soon as April, the Lion isn’t currently making plans to switch or handle its own distribution yet.

At Miramax for 14 years, Sands ultimately oversaw production, marketing and administration as COO, but his forte was in domestic and international distribution and sales. He was known at the mini-major for driving tough deals for Harvey and Bob Weinstein. He ankled the tight-knit fold when the Weinsteins hammered out their complex exit deal with Disney.

Exec was brought into DreamWorks by Jeffrey Katzenberg, who had handled most of the studio’s administrative and operational aspects and needed to transition into focusing on the studio’s animation unit.

But over the past year, with DreamWorks in a state of flux, Sands never got a true foothold at the studio.

“Timing is everything,” Sands said of the latest move. “Harry’s a visionary, and the company is very well capitalized.”

Sands added that he has gotten to know Sloan just recently, since he departed DreamWorks and met the MGM topper, who was looking for a No. 2.

In the meantime, the Weinsteins have been talking to Sloan about making Showtime a home for their company’s pics via MGM’s output deal with the cabler.

But MGM is just one of a few parties with which the Weinsteins are having talks to find a pay TV home for their pics.

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