Miller ankling WB for Bel-Air

Biz vet to consult for studio

President of Warner Bros. worldwide theatrical business operations Jim Miller will settle out the remainder of his two-year contract with the studio, and is expected to assume an exclusive advisory role with studio-based Bel-Air Entertainment.

He will retain a consultancy to Warner Bros. for the remainder of his two-year deal.

It had been predicted for at least two months that Miller would join longtime friend and Bel-Air prexy and CFO Steven Reuther in some capacity, and Miller and WB are expected to announce his new position shortly.

As Miller transitions, the dealmaking responsibilities of his old job will be taken over by newly minted prexy and chief operating officer Alan Horn, while day-to-day business affairs decisions will remain with that department’s exec VP Steve Spira, as well as senior VP of business and legal affairs David Sagal.

When former co-chairman and CEO Terry Semel last year asked Miller to sign on for another two years, Miller negotiated that he be allowed to segue into the kind of dealmaker/strategist capacity for a WB producer which he is now close to assuming.

A 20-year Warners veteran with one of the longest careers at the studio, Miller has been responsible for negotiating and overseeing some of that lot’s most important producer deals.

These include newer shingles the Canton Co. and Material, the cash-laden Village Roadshow and Bel-Air, and more traditional deals like those belonging to WB stalwarts Jerry Weintraub, Joel Silver and Jon Peters.

Among the most important deals to have been formed under Miller’s aegis as Semel’s chief deal broker is the one he made for New Regency, a company Reuther was running for Arnon Milchan during the Fox-based company’s earliest time at WB.

The deal was one of the first off-balance-sheet financing deals that preceded the rash of split-rights arrangements now mirrored at studios all over town.

Upped from business affairs exec VP to the new slot of prexy in January 1998, Miller became the de facto budget czar at a crucial time when the studio was slipping from the box office pole position and coming under attack for spending too much on a development slate that some said wasn’t yielding enough hit movies.

As chief consigliere to Semel, Miller is understood to have clashed repeatedly with the erstwhile twin creative management team of present worldwide production prexy Lorenzo di Bonaventura and now-WB producer Bill Gerber. The clash was over who was going to have the final word on what movies should cost and how their production should be run.

Miller leaves the studio at a more optimistic time when high-profile fare like “The Matrix” franchise is starting to click, and scrappier fare like “House on Haunted Hill” looks more cost-efficient and profitable.

Under the helm of new chairman/CEO Barry Meyer and Horn, the producer deals Miller helped shape during his time at WB will start coming due within this year, likely prompting a re-evaluation of their continued fiscal viability.