Finance guru to become key player at studio

In a strategic shift, the Weinstein Co. is hiring its first chief operating officer.

Lee Solomon, a longtime entertainment finance and biz affairs vet who was most recently a partner at Grosvenor Park, is expected to become a key architect of TWC.

The formal announcement is expected today.

Solomon will be tasked with making a streamlined and more profitable whole out of parts spanning film, TV, homevid, publishing, the Internet and fashion.

Solomon’s entry to the newly created post means co-chairman Harvey Weinstein will refocus on the film biz. During the company’s eventful two-year emergence, many in the industry — perhaps none more so than TWC’s financial backers — have wondered when or if TWC would make such a move.

“I’m cutting down on my other activities to focus on the slate,” Weinstein said. “I have to go back to movies.”

Weinstein compared Solomon’s role to that played by Rick Sands in the prior regime at Miramax.

“He will add a tremendous amount to the company,” Weinstein said. “He will help build our productivity in a lot of areas because of his access to all sorts of financial resources. He will help make our movies bigger” via partnerships and synergies, not necessarily budgets.

Solomon called the opportunity “a good fit and the right timing.”

He described himself as a true showbiz kid — “one of my earliest memories is of being at NATPE when I was 4″ — due to his father’s career in the TV biz.

“My career began in distribution and in foreign sales in the early ’90s, trying to put a movie together with two dimes and a nickel,” Solomon recalled.

He wound up as exec VP and chief operating officer for Quadra Entertainment and a consultant for producer Edward R. Pressman. He also served as exec VP of biz affairs for Helkon Media.

While he never worked directly with the Weinsteins, he said, “Who hasn’t crossed paths with them at some point?” One of the 28 pics with which he was involved at Grosvenor was TWC’s “Miss Potter.”

Weinstein characterized the 2008 slate as “formidable for Oscar.” He listed the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” Gong Li-John Cusack drama “Shanghai,” Kate Winslet-Ralph Fiennes starrer “The Reader” and Woody Allen pickup “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” Rob Marshall’s “Nine” is also a possibility for 2008, depending on rewrites by Anthony Minghella.

The Weinstein Co., which launched in 2005, now has 200 full-time employees, up from original plans for around 100, Weinstein said.

“We have all the money we need, and we have cash flow from a lot of sources,” he said, brushing off reports of financial woes and citing profitable investments in Genius Products and social networking website aSmallWorld.net. The exec structure with Solomon and other recent hires “will help validate my vision” of a multimedia empire, he said.

Another non-film venture, the Halston fashion line acquired last March by TWC and Hilco Consumer Capital, has a big day ahead. “We open Feb. 4,” Weinstein said, using filmspeak for today’s fall runway show during Gotham’s Fashion Week.

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