Chris Blackwell has resigned his post as CEO of Island Pictures in what sources say is a protest of parent Polygram Filmed Entertainment’s move to insert its own editor on Robert Altman’s “The Gingerbread Man,” produced under the Island banner.
While Polygram Filmed Entertainment prexy Michael Kuhn couldn’t be reached for comment, a source within the company confirmed Blackwell’s resignation and that he will remain in his role as chairman of Island Records.
According to sources at Island, the entrepreneur-record mogul’s ankling stemmed from Polygram’s decision last month to take away Altman’s film and edit it on its own. Polygram inserted its own editor, Don Cambern, to re-cut the film after expressing dissatisfaction over the one delivered by the director of such films as “MASH,” “Nashville,” “The Player,” “Pret-a-Porter” and “Short Cuts.”
While Blackwell was in London and could not be reached, a source close to the situation said, “There was an agreement between Chris Blackwell and (Polygram CEO) Alain Levy that Chris would leave his post at Island Pictures at the end of the year, due to the fact that Chris felt that things weren’t working as successfully as they should.
“But the Robert Altman- ‘Gingerbread Man’ situation has upset Chris and he wants to disassociate himself from that and that’s why he tendered his resignation now instead of at the end of the year.”
A Polygram spokesman had no comment regarding Blackwell’s resignation, but did say, “We really admire Robert Altman and we are doing everything we can to work things out.”
Upon hearing the news of Blackwell’s resignation, Altman told Daily Variety — through David Levy, the associate producer on the film — that “Chris Blackwell has always been a friend. I admire him and I am grateful for his integrity.”
While Island Pictures’ prexy Mark Burg oversees the company’s day-to- day operations, a source said that with Blackwell’s ankling, Polygram’s Kuhn would, for the time being, be in charge of the company.
Burg, reached on vacation, declined comment.
The news comes on the day Polygram had scheduled a research screening of “The Gingerbread Man” in Los Angeles. The Wednesday-evening preview would be the first public screening of the Polygram-edited version.
Of the new cut, a source close to the production said no scenes had been cut or moved out of order from Altman’s original, 109-minute version. But the edits have changed the film’s pacing and length, and it now has a different score.
Running time for the new version was not available.
The film — which would be the second major release of the new Polygram distribution arm, the first being “The Game” — stars a typical Altman ensemble cast, including Kenneth Branagh, Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Darryl Hannah, Embeth Davidtz and Famke Janssen. It was made for a reported $25 million. In 1995, Island acquired the film rights to “The Gingerbread Man,” the only screenplay John Grisham had ever written, in a deal worth more than $1.5 million.
While neither side will speak on the record, Polygram feels the film turned in by Altman was not a commercial film that could open in wide release on upwards of 1,500 screens (Daily Variety, July 31).