Exec to act as consultant through end of '07

First Look Pictures president Ruth Vitale will leave her post April 30, citing the decision by the company’s board to scale back operations.

Vitale made the announcement Wednesday amid an undisclosed number of layoffs among the 140 staffers at First Look’s Century City headquarters. The cuts took place in domestic distribution and production operations.

Vitale’s departure comes at a time of speculation that First Look, with its 700-title library, could be sold. One potential buyer is Millennium Films, which only a few weeks ago was eyeing a deal to be purchased by First Look.

Moves came two weeks after First Look CEO Henry Winterstern stepped down, following two years of aggressive expansion of the banner into production and distribution.

Vitale, who served seven years as co-prexy of Paramount Classics, joined First Look in late 2005. She plans to oversee First Look’s first wide release, “Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters,” set to open April 13, and will serve as a consultant through the end of the year to assist on the release of such projects at “Paris je t’aime.”

“It saddens me, but moving on is the best for everyone in light of First Look’s decision to conduct its theatrical business on a smaller scale,” said Vitale. “I leave behind a strong team and take pride in the projects that I helped bring to First Look.”

Company had no comment Wednesday about Vitale’s departure, a possible successor or First Look’s strategic direction. Its board consists of Chris Cooney, Mitch Goldstein and Chas Phillips.

Winterstern began First Look’s expansion in summer 2005 by acquiring the foreign sales entity and merging it with his Capital Entertainment banner. He subsequently added distribution, beefed up the international sales arm by hiring Miramax vet Stuart Ford and closed a three-year, $80 million credit line with Merrill Lynch & Co. last summer to enable the company to up its number of films.

Winterstern said at the time that First Look would release 10 films theatrically in 2007. But recent releases “The Dead Girl,” “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” and “Wassup Rockers” have performed poorly, while its foreign sales arm has remained active.

Besides “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” and “Paris je t’aime,” First Look’s slate includes “Phantom Biker,” “Smiley Face,” “An American Crime” and “Dedication,” which it acquired with the Weinstein Co. at Sundance this year.

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