Job cuts part of Viacom layoffs

Paramount Pictures laid off an undisclosed number of marketing executives Friday in an effort to streamline its marketing and distribution efforts as the studio prepares for a smaller slate of films in 2009.

Cuts were part of the Dec. 3 announcement by parent company Viacom that it was slashing 7% of its workforce across all divisions. At the time, Paramount wouldn’t confirm how many staffers were being let go, but it was believed to be about 100. Though the pinkslips were supposed to be handed out by the end of the day Dec. 5, the studio waited an extra week to notify the marketing execs affected. Paramount declined comment, though an insider said the delay was simply for logistical reasons.

“It’s part of last week’s announcement of a cost restructuring across the board for all Viacom companies, in light of the current economic environment,” said one studio exec.

Paramount’s marketing team is in the thick of preparing for the release of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” for which the studio has high hopes this awards season. The Brad Pitt-Cate Blanchett starrer received five Golden Globe nominations Thursday.

Par co-prexy Megan Colligan flew to New York on Friday to make changes in that office. She is still consolidating the marketing team she leads with Josh Greenstein in the wake of the merger of the studio marketing department with her former group at Paramount Vantage. Some will stay and some will go on both sides. “It’s a mix of the best of the best,” said one studio exec.

Among Friday’s cuts, those affected were senior VPs and below, an insider said.

In October, Paramount announced it was reducing the number of annual releases from 25 to 20. But marketing isn’t the only division taking a hit. The Vantage label has been reduced to a shadow of its former self, with prexy Nick Meyer ankling Dec. 3. Homevideo also has made significant cuts, with Paramount domestic home entertainment prexy Meagan Burrows among those losing their jobs in the Viacom cutbacks. Additional names mentioned on the homevid side include VP sales Steven Roberts and marketing VP Chris Saito.

Other studio cutbacks include two producer deals that will not be renewed, which enable the studio to take write-offs this year. The studio will buy out the remaining year on Kevin Misher’s first-look Misher Films deal. The producer, who was already in the process of moving off the lot with his staff of five when the decision was made, was viewed as being more productive for his former studio, Universal Pictures, than for Paramount.

Misher has two films lined up next year at U: Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies” and Dito Montiel’s “Fighting,” starring Channing Tatum and Terrence Howard.

The producer still has a number of projects left at Paramount, including the Renee Zellweger starrer “Case 39,” which opens April 10. He is developing a remake of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic “Dune” at the Melrose studio for director Peter Berg for a 2010 release.

Par also declined to renew its first-look deal with “World Trade Center” producers Stacey Sher and Michael Shamberg, whose Double Feature Films maintains offices in Beverly Hills. The fate of such films as “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” are up in the air.

Similarly, former Par exec Scott Aversano, who was working on the lot under the terms of his severance package after leaving the MTV and Nickelodeon film labels, is leaving the studio, although he will continue to track Nickelodeon’s untitled “Kidrobot” project.

(Diane Garrett contributed to this report.)

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