Meledandri joins Fox family film wing

Less than a month after he stepped in as head of the new family film division at 20th Century Fox, John Matoian has begun to assemble his team, bringing Fox senior veepee of production Chris Meledandri into the unit as an exec VP.

“I was looking for someone who was well-steeped in the feature film world, someone who knew the studio system as well as the creative community,” Matoian told Daily Variety Friday. “I went out to that community and asked for recommendations and Chris’ name fit on every list. He has established himself as a talented force within the studio as well as a respected producer and developer in the creative community.”

Matoian said he was also looking for someone who had “a real affinity” for family material. During Meledandri’s short tenure at Fox — he joined the studio last year — he has overseen the upcoming “Baby’s Day Out” and the remake of “Miracle on 34th Street,” both from John Hughes.

He also recently exec produced Buena Vista’s sleeper hit “Cool Runnings,” Hollywood Pictures’ “Swing Kids” and the upcoming “Fly By Night,” which won the 1993 Sundance Film Festival’s Filmmaker Trophy for Drama.

Meledandri’s move over to the family unit leaves Fox’s senior production ranks a little thin, as the studio has yet to replace Riley Kathryn Ellis, who ankled two months ago (Daily Variety, Jan. 21) to go to Caravan Pictures. This now leaves two spots open, although the studio did up Jorge Canizares to senior veepee status late last year.

In addition, the studio’s director of production, Jamie Abell-Venit, departed a week ago to take the job of vice president of acquisition and co-productions at New Line.

Before joining Fox, Meledandri was president of Dawn Steel’s Steel Pictures, a post he had held since 1991. He was a partner in the Meledandri/Gordon Co., based at Paramount, which he formed with Mark R. Gordon in 1987.

Among his other credits were co-executive producer on “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit,” producer on “Opportunity Knocks” for Imagine Entertainment/Universal and producer on the upcoming Warner Bros. release “Trial by Jury.”

Matoian said Friday he had no film projects yet on tap for the family division, having concentrated his first three weeks on the job of finding an executive to come into the unit. He noted that neither of the Hughes films will be released under the family banner.