Time Warner takes toll: Castle Rock staff halved

Castle Rock Entertainment, reducing its size to its pre-Turner Broadcasting days, officially cut the staff to 60 employees on Friday for new boss Time Warner.

The cuts, which will take effect June 27, had been widely reported (Daily Variety, May 14). But it was unclear when they would take place. Between 60 and 70 employees will lose their jobs. The staff had once included as many as 140 creative and service employees.

Merger overlap

The company said the other cuts fell mostly in overlap areas with Warner Bros., such as physical production, accounting, business affairs, computers, human resources, marketing and publicity.

Castle Rock’s international division was essentially dismantled, with international distribution falling under Warners’ domain. Castle Rock prexy of international Massimo Graziosi will remain in place to service the numerous output deals and foreign contracts that Castle Rock has set up.

Castle Rock chairman Alan Horn said the severance packages Time Warner provided took into account the fact that none of the staff was being fired. Rather, he said, their jobs were being eliminated.

“It was time to restructure the company in such a way that a merger has taken place,” Horn says. “All of these cuts are merger-related.”

Castle Rock and its five founding partners — Alan Horn, Glenn Padnick Rob Reiner, Andy Scheinman and Martin Shafer — will remain in the company’s offices at Maple Drive.

Additionally, the following division heads will remain overseeing their respective areas: chief operating officer Greg Paul, exec VP Jess Wittenberg, exec VP of physical production Jeff Stott, president of marketing Jim Frederick, senior VP of Castle Rock TV Robin Green and senior VP of publicity and promotions Elizabeth Clark.

Five pic output annually

In the new Warner Bros. universe, Castle Rock will get to greenlight an estimated five pics per year and will retain all creative autonomy from development through the production process. The company will have marketing and distribution approval for all its future releases.

Horn, who at TBS reported directly to Ted Turner (now Time Warner vice chairman), will report to Warner Bros. chairmen and co-CEOs Bob Daly and Terry Semel.

Castle Rock Television, which will begin its ninth season of “Seinfeld” on NBC, is expected to remain unchanged and will continue creating and developing new projects for TV.

The company currently has four films in production or pre-production: “Palmetto,” starring Woody Harrelson and Elisabeth Shue under Volker Schlondorff’s helm; “Sour Grapes,” written and directed by “Seinfeld” co-creator Larry David; “Zero Effect,” penned and helmed by Jake Kasdan and starring Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller; and “My Giant,” starring Billy Crystal under Michael Lehmann’s direction.

Those four pics will conclude the long-term pact that Castle Rock had with Columbia Pictures for distribution.

The job cuts bring Castle Rock back to its size before it was acquired along with New Line Cinema by Turner in 1993. Back then, Castle Rock churned out about four to five pics per year. In nearly each of its first five years, it released a $100 million grosser.

The company’s fortunes took a downward turn almost immediately after the Turner buy. Turner had planned on increasing Castle Rock’s production to as many as 12 pics per year with bigger budgets.

“It’s not like this is a job for me. It’s a life,” Horn said. “Whatever validity exists in our decision, it’s still a very tough thing to look someone in the eye and tell them they have to leave.”