Fox trots 3 to tops

Rothman, Parker, Gabler upped; Ziskin steps down

Fox Filmed Entertainment has upped Tom Rothman to president of 20th Century Fox Film Group, a newly created executive post charged with overseeing production operations for the studio’s two mainstream, live-action divisions, TCF (formerly the 20th Century Fox production division) and Fox 2000.

With Rothman’s ascension, Fox also announced the promotion of Hutch Parker, executive vice president of 20th Century Fox, to president of production for TCF, filling the post Rothman has held since 1995; and 20th exec VP Elizabeth Gabler was upped to president of Fox 2000, replacing Laura Ziskin, who resigned from the position on Monday.

Ziskin will be stepping down from her nearly five-year post at the end of the year to return to producing, although it’s still unclear where she might hang her indie shingle. Ziskin, whose departure had been expected, will spend the next two months transitioning the label over to Gabler. With this end date, the Jodie Foster-, Chow Yun Fat-starrer “Anna and the King” looks to be the last film released (Dec. 17) under Ziskin’s tenure at Fox 2000.

Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman and CEO William Mechanic told Daily Variety that he hopes to keep Ziskin on the Fox lot as a producer, although no talks have begun on that front.

“I will miss Laura and am very grateful for the job she’s done in building Fox 2000 from the ground up,” said Mechanic. “It is a credit to her that she leaves the division with some outstanding films.”

He added: “I have a lot of respect for her and it would be my preference for her to stay here as a producer.”

“I have long desired to return to my first love of hands-on producing and the New Year seemed the appropriate time to take this step,” said Ziskin. “I leave with a sense of pride about this endeavor and am delighted that my very able colleague Elizabeth Gabler is now going to put her own stamp on it. I hope to continue my working relationship with Bill, Tom and now Elizabeth and Hutch.”

Of the promotions, the widest-ranging among the production ranks since the studio established the four film divisions in 1995, Mechanic said: “I think this is a very exciting time at Fox. These changes will push us to continue to grow as a company and will allow the multiple division structure that has worked so well for us to flourish.”

“It is also a moment to recognize the outstanding job Tom Rothman has done in developing both material and people,” Mechanic added. “I could not be happier that we have ‘homegrown’ our next generation of leaders in Elizabeth and Hutch.”

Gabler and Parker will continue to report directly to Rothman, who now will manage all production activities (including the casting, story and physical production departments) for both TCF and Fox 2000. It’s understood that Rothman also will take a more active role in the greenlighting process, although Mechanic still maintains final say on which films go before the cameras.

Chris Meledandri, prexy of Fox Animation Studios, and Lindsay Law, president of specialized banner, Fox Searchlight Pictures, will continue to report directly to Mechanic.

Rothman has overseen 20th’s production activities since Tom Jacobson ankled the post in September 1995 to start his own indie production shingle. Jacobson’s exit came shortly after Mechanic, then prexy of Fox Filmed Entertainment, and News Corp. prexy and COO Peter Chernin, then FFE chairman, established the four production divisions as part of a major overhaul of the studio.

At the time, Rothman — who, as prexy, was overseeing Fox Searchlight Pictures — did not represent the most obvious choice to run Fox’s flagship label. In addition to establishing and running Searchlight for a year, Rothman had spent five years overseeing specialized films as prexy of production for the Samuel Goldwyn Co. Before that, the former New York-based entertainment attorney spent two years as exec-VP at Columbia Pictures under Dawn Steel.

Rothman’s tenure at 20th has been highlighted by the success of such pics as “There’s Something About Mary,” “Doctor Dolittle,” “The X-Files,” “Hope Floats” and “William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet,” as well as the good fortune to escape disaster with “Titanic,” which went on to become the top-grossing film of all time.

“I am grateful for the opportunity and confidence Bill has displayed in me and am truly excited by this new challenge,” said Rothman. “It is particularly gratifying to move forward together with my friends and colleagues Elizabeth and Hutch who, along with Peter Rice, form the strongest production team this side of the Yankees.”

With the promotion, Rothman, 44, inked a new, multi-year contract with the studio. Rothman’s previous contract was not due to expire for another year.

The promotions not only emphasize the bench-strength of Mechanic’s exec corps, but the restructuring is significant because all new positions have been filled by longstanding, internal candidates, a rarity in the vacillating, grass-is-always-greener nature of Hollywood studios.

Under Mechanic’s watch, in the last five years, Fox has managed to operate with little turnover among its top talent. Only a small number of senior production execs have left the studio, albeit such well-respected execs as Jorge Saralegui, who became a producer at Warner Bros., and Kevin McCormick, who ankled to become exec-VP at Warners. Fox managed to keep former exec-VP Sanford Panitch on the lot by facilitating his move to Fox-based production company, New Regency, as president.

And while many have questioned the viability of the multi-division structure particularly in light of substantial losses from Fox 2000 releases over the years, Mechanic remains heartily committed to the configuration.

“Obviously they (TCF and Fox 2000) will take on more of the personalities of the people running them,” said Mechanic. “There might be some overlap sometimes, but I think they will continue to produce distinct slates of diverse films.”

Mechanic added that with the change in management, there will not be any new mandates for either division, “other than to lower budgets.” The two divisions are expected to continue providing 15-20 pics per year, with the majority coming from TCF.

Both Parker and Gabler will have to hire a few production execs to fill their former seats. Gabler also must replace former exec-VP Alex Gartner, who recently left for a similar post at MGM.

While Gabler, 43, must acquaint herself with Fox 2000’s existing exec ranks (which include exec VP Carla Hacken and VP Ashley Kramer), Parker, 35, has worked with his 20th execs for some time and he will have considerable, known backup from executive VP Peter Rice and senior VP of production Josie Rosen.

Gabler joined Fox in 1988 and during her tenure has overseen production of such films as “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Waiting to Exhale,” “Hope Floats,” “Entrapment” and the upcoming pics, “Cast Away,” starring Tom Hanks and helmed by Robert Zemeckis, and “Where the Heart Is,” starring Natalie Portman and Ashley Judd.

It’s likely that Gabler will transfer over to Fox 2000 a few of the projects she has been developing at 20th, including “Phone Booth,” to which Hughes Bros. are attached to direct.

During his four-year run at Fox, Parker has been the production exec in charge of such films as “There’s Something About Mary,” “The X-Files,” “Bulworth” and “The Crucible.” Parker currently is chaperoning to release Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s follow-up to “Mary,” the Jim Carrey-starrer “Me, Myself and Irene.”

Parker gets a ringing endorsement from writer-director Peter Farrelly: “Of all the execs I’ve ever met out there, he’s got the smallest ego, and I mean that in the best way. Hutch gives particularly good notes, but allows you to make the movie you want to make. He’s unobtrusive and gives you the freedom to try things.”