Top promotions at Paramount

Studio shuffles executive deck

Paramount Vantage president John Lesher is leapfrogging from the specialty label to a top post at Paramount Pictures.

The move, which a source said is scheduled for January, is part of a studio restructuring that will also see the promotion of Rob Moore, currently prexy of worldwide marketing, distribution and operation. A promotion also is envisioned for Par president of production Brad Weston.

Vantage will likely be left in the experienced hands of co-president Nick Meyer.

Lesher’s move to the top ranks of the parent studio marks a fast promotion for the exec, who was an Endeavor agent just two years ago.

He transformed Paramount Classics into a reinvented Par Vantage, whose first-year releases — including such critical and awards successes as “Babel” and “An Inconvenient Truth” — outshone the slate of Par proper.

Lesher has been praised for his arthouse sensibilities, but his next challenge will be to shift into the commercial mainstream.

Although Paramount wouldn’t officially confirm the promotions, insiders said the trio had indeed been groomed by Grey for greater responsibilities.

Reached by phone, Lesher was unwilling to confirm speculation that Weston would report to him under a new structure.

But Weston was apparently blindsided by the possibility of reporting to Lesher. Speculation about Weston’s future at the studio was once intense but has quieted in recent weeks.

Calls to Weston and Paramount Pictures chairman Brad Grey were not returned.

Ever since Grey took the reins at Par in March 2005, the Melrose studio has been the target of press reports and Hollywood buzz that hit a peak with the double exit of Paramount prexy Gail Berman and co-president of production Alli Shearmur on the same day earlier this year.

The studio’s production division has taken a beating in the press over the past year for paling in the shadow of DreamWorks — with a lot of coverage devoted to the tension between that recently purchased company, on the one hand, and Par proper and Viacom on the other.

DreamWorks has contributed box office juggernauts to the Par pipeline including “Disturbia,” “Blades of Glory,” “Transformers” and “Norbit” this year.

But Paramount appeared finally to have turned the corner in recent months as Weston’s upcoming slate came into focus.

The 2008 titles include Jon Favreau’s comicbook actioner “Iron Man,” Steven Spielberg’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” J.J. Abrams’ Manhattan monster thriller “Cloverfield” and his reinvention of the “Star Trek” franchise, the Mike Myers comedy “The Love Guru” and the Eddie Murphy laffer “NowhereLand.” Weston’s team also recently assembled Martin Scorsese’s upcoming Leonardo DiCaprio starrer “Shutter Island.”

The studio also rushed furiously to get the Lorenzo di Bonaventura-produced tentpole “G.I. Joe” ready for a February shoot, ensuring a summer 2009 release.

Par Vantage, meanwhile, has a year-end slate that includes awards hopefuls including “Into the Wild,” “There Will Be Blood” and “Margot at the Wedding,” as well as “No Country for Old Men,” which it has overseas while Miramax handles domestically.

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