Warner bridges gap at indie arm

Cohen tapped WIP topper

Laying out the course for the new leadership at Warner Independent Pictures following the ouster of Mark Gill, Warner Bros. prexy of production Jeff Robinov said the unit will be a place where favored studio directors can go to make smaller movies.

In return, directors — such as Bryan Singer or Christopher Nolan — might have more incentive to make commercial, big-budget fare for Warners proper. Studio also would look to Warner Independent to foster new directing talent that then could jump to big Warners.

Such a move would set Warner Independent apart from other specialty arms, which have generally pursued slates independent of studio concerns.

Enacting that vision, Robinov on Monday officially tapped trusted lieutenant Polly Cohen to serve as prexy of Warner Independent.

Cohen, who takes over the new gig June 1, may have little experience in the indie film biz, but she is a direct conduit to Robinov, giving him easier purview of Warner Independent’s slate.

Move comes less than a week after Gill, who was hired in 2003 to launch Warner Independent, abruptly resigned after a long and testy relationship with Robinov, with the two never able to agree on the unit’s course.

In a conference call with Daily Variety, Robinov said he and Gill could not get over their differences as to how things should be run.

Also on the conference call were Cohen and — in a show of Robinov’s support for them — Warner Independent exec VP of publicity and marketing Laura Kim and exec VP of distribution Steve Friedlander.

Cohen spent two years at Jersey Films before joining Warners, where she has supervised some of the studio’s biggest tentpoles, including the “Harry Potter” franchise and the upcoming “Superman Returns.” Widely respected, she recently was upped to exec VP, production.

Most studio specialty arms have filled their top ranks with indie veterans who have generally been given more autonomy than Gill was to pursue projects of their own choosing.

The studio’s press release announcing Cohen’s appointment as Warner Independent prexy made sure to note Cohen also supervised “Mama’s Boy,” which will be released by Warner Independent. However, not even Cohen tried to gloss over her lack of indie expertise.

Robinov said while Cohen may lack such experience, she has developed the most important talent of all: the ability to establish a working rapport with filmmakers.

“That is a skill set that she has really developed at Warner Bros. and one that will easily apply here,” Robinov said. “She has my complete trust and faith.”

Cohen’s other studio credits include “Starsky and Hutch,” “Gothika,” “The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” and “Analyze This.”

“I’m hoping that the types of filmmakers I have worked with will want to make movies at Warner Independent,” Cohen said.

Robinov revealed that the studio is setting up an internal developed fund earmarked for Warner Independent projects. He also said the unit would remain aggressive in both production and acquisitions, dispelling rumors that Warner Independent is moving away from production.

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