Duo to head international film production unit

Deborah Schindler, who has been running Columbia Pictures’ East Coast production, has been tapped for the top job in Sony’s growing overseas operations.

Schindler has been named prexy of the newly formed international film production division, an outgrowth of the local-languages initiative Gareth Wigan launched a decade ago.

Wigan will retain his title as vice chair of the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group and remain active developing international projects, running the division with Schindler.

Move underscores the growing importance of overseas markets to the conglom. The studio has produced or co-produced some 30 pics geared to local auds and is continuing to expand such ventures into new territories.

Overseas box office showed robust gains last year, jumping 9% to $8.6 billion for the majors.

While most of Sony’s international productions will be geared to specific regions, those with crossover potential will receive wider release, as was the case with “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Layer Cake” and “Kung Fu Hustle.”

On a day-to-day basis, however, the Intl. Motion Picture Group will operate independently of the domestic production operation headed by co-presidents Doug Belgrad and Matt Tolmach. Sony Pictures chair Michael Lynton and co-chair Amy Pascal oversee both groups.

“If we have something that we think will travel well, then we’ll talk with Michael and Amy,” Schindler said.

Schindler’s previous experience centers on domestic productions. She began her career as an assistant to Martin Scorsese and has run Columbia’s East Coast film production and development ops since 2005. She was Julia Roberts’ producing partner at Red Om Films and previously did a stint at Fox. Her producing credits include “Maid in Manhattan,” “Mona Lisa Smile” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.”

The exec admits she has “a huge learning curve” when it comes to international productions but maintains that “telling stories through film is universal,” whether it’s for a Russian aud or one Stateside.

The studio has been actively developing local productions in China, Spain, France and Mexico through the local-languages program. It recently expanded into Russia.

Schindler will remain based in Gotham; Wigan is based at the studio’s Culver City lot.

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