CEO and COO leaving distribution company

Despite the departures of Overture Films toppers Chris McGurk and Danny Rosett, Liberty Media is still pursuing various options for the company and has no immediate plans to shutter it.

The fate of Overture and the other units in Starz Media have been up in the air for months after it became known that Liberty was considering a sale or bringing in a strategic partner for Overture, Anchor Bay Entertainment and the two animation production entities within Starz Media. McGurk and Rosett had tried to mount a management buyout of Starz Media, but that plan appears to have stalled.

McGurk and Rosett were said to have been increasingly frustrated that Liberty Media toppers weren’t keeping them in the loop on the plans for the company. They were also concerned about the fate of the three movies Overture is set to release this fall, and the millions of dollars needed to market and distribute the titles.

There were no other resignations at Overture on Thursday. McGurk’s and Rosett’s departures come six months after former HBO chief Chris Albrecht took the reins of parent entity Starz LLC, a division of John Malone’s Liberty. McGurk and Rosett, who previously ran MGM, founded Overture in November 2006 after wooing Malone for financial backing.

News of McGurk’s and Rosett’s departures was released late Thursday and attributed to differences in the “strategic direction” of the company. There were no other resignations at Overture on Thursday.

Peter Adee, Overture’s prexy of worldwide marketing and distribution, will oversee day-to-day operations at Overture and now report to Albrecht. Bill Clark, prexy of Anchor Bay, also will now report to Albrecht. Clark and Adee had previously reported to McGurk, who was CEO of Overture and Anchor Bay. Rosett was chief operating officer of Overture.

“I want to thank Chris and Danny for their dedication and hard work in building the studio from the ground up and wish them well in their future business endeavors,” Albrecht said in a statement. Albrecht was in Europe on Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

News of the departures was another example of the tumult in the indie distrib biz, following this week’s layoffs at Apparition and last week’s major debt restructuring at the Weinstein Co.

In the wake of the economic downturn, investors have grown impatient with the indie model and with the pricey overhead. However, an entity that has a U.S. distribution operation still has appeal to investors who want to be in the film biz.

While Overture has had several solid releases — as well as critically acclaimed films “The Visitor” and “Sunshine Cleaning” — it hasn’t fielded a big hit. Conversely, Summit Entertainment, launched around the same time as Overture, has struck paydirt with the “Twilight” franchise.

And in the case of Overture, the situation became more complicated with the arrival of Albrecht, who wants up to beef up production at cabler Starz Entertainment, Starz Media’s sister division. That shifted priorities for Liberty.

McGurk and Rosett began their push for a management-friendly buyout in January after it was revealed that Liberty wanted to shed or refinance Starz Media, which in addition to Overture and Anchor Bay, houses Film Roman animation studio and Starz Animation. Shortly thereafter, production and development on new projects was frozen at Overture.

McGurk and Rosett knew their bid for a management buyout was risky from the outset. In many cases, a new owner or partner wants to install a new management team.

There are several offers on the table for Starz Media. Private equity players Alec and Tom Gores are believed to be among those interested in the properties, either through a partnership or outright sale. Starz Media has been valued at about $225 million.

“Law Abiding Citizen” is Overture’s top grosser at $73.3 million, followed by “Righteous Kill” at $40.1 million, “The Crazies” at $39.1 million and “The Men Who Stare at Goats” at $32.4 million.

While production has halted, Overture is working on several upcoming releases, including Philip Seymour Hoffman’s “Jack Goes Boating” (Sept. 17) and John Curran’s “Stone” (Oct. 8).

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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