Universal bolsters foreign division

Studio shuffles execs for overseas production

Universal Pictures has made several key appointments in its new foreign production division, with Clare Wise joining as senior VP of international production in London, and Andrea Willson confirmed as head of the Berlin office.

Jason Resnick, the Los Angeles-based senior VP and general manager of worldwide acquisitions, has expanded his role at the studio to oversee co-productions in Latin America, Asia and Australia.

In their new roles, all three will report to Christian Grass, who joined Universal Pictures Intl. last October as president of international production and acquisitions, based in London.

“These appointments represent a major step in creating an international on-the-ground presence for Universal,” Grass said.

Universal has committed a substantial annual budget for an aggressive move into local filmmaking around the world, with plans to make three to four movies a year in every territory where it establishes a base.

It has already formed partnerships with Fernando Meirelles’ O2 Filmes in Brazil; Cha Cha Cha in Mexico, the company of helmers Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu; and director/producer Timur Bekmambetov in Russia.

Universal is about to begin shooting Heitor Dhalia’s “Adrift” with O2 Filmes, starring Vincent Cassell.

“We are building a globally-focused team committed to local film production,” said Universal chairman Marc Shmuger and co-chairman David Linde in a joint statement. “People around the world want to see their own stories, faces and languages on the screen.”

Wise, who joined the studio Feb. 4, was previously head of international at the U.K. Film Council, where her work included developing relationships in Asia, the Far East, Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America.

At Universal, her primary role will be to work with local filmmakers to identify projects for co-production, particularly in any territory where the studio doesn’t have its own production executive or partner.

Wise said, “As technology puts filmmaking within the reach of so many, we will create opportunities in diverse markets, both through co-production deals and distribution of completed films.”

Willson is a former managing director of Sony’s German-language operation, where she had mixed success before the studio pulled out of local production in 2003. She subsequently joined Falcom Media Group in Switzerland. At U, she will be director, German production and local acquisitions.

“Germany is an especially fertile market with a unique film culture,” she said. “I am looking forward to building on my longstanding relationship here to help Universal enhance its strong creative presence in Germany, and to co-produce many German films that find local audiences, export this culture and bring local talent to worldwide attention.”

Universal’s German distribution arm, based in Frankfurt, has had some success in recent years with local product, including the two “Seven Dwarves” comedies, which grossed a combined $87 million. Earlier this month, it released kid pic “Die Rote Zora” to an opening weekend of $925,000, and in April it will handle the rock music comedy “Fleisch Ist Mein Gemuese.”

Willson will liaise closely with UPI’s Frankfurt team to extend the studio’s relationship with local filmmakers, and to source projects with local commercial potential for U to co-produce.

The expanded role for U’s longtime acquisitions topper Resnick formalizes his relationship with filmmakers such as Meirelles. Resnick oversees the first-look deal with O2 Filmes. For domestic acquisitions, he continues to report to the Universal and Focus leadership in the U.S.

International creative exec Michele Wolkoff will work closely with Resnick in Los Angeles.

Grass is also building up the legal and business affairs team in London, with the appointment of former Future Films exec Alexander Jooss as VP, business and legal affairs, and former BBC Films exec Susie Hock as director, business and legal affairs.

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