After months of speculation, former Gramercy Pictures topper Russell Schwartz has been named president of Barry Diller’s USA Films.
Based in Los Angeles, Schwartz will report to USA Films chairman Scott Greenstein, who is based in New York.
Diller’s USA Networks is in the process of absorbing specialized distributor October Films as well as certain former assets of Polygram Filmed Entertainment, including Gramercy, Propaganda Films, Interscope Communications and Polygram Home Video, to form USA Films.
“Russell Schwartz has been one of the leading behind-the-scenes forces in independent film,” said Greenstein in a prepared statement. “With Russell’s wealth of experience, we will be able to hit the ground running as a major independent film company.”
As rumors increased in recent weeks that Schwartz was leaning toward taking the USA job, speculation among specialized film pros has centered on how he and Greenstein, who have distinctly different styles and personalities, would mesh.
“Scott and I will work very closely together,” Schwartz told Daily Variety. “We will be jointly responsible for the selection of pictures. A lot of my focus will be on running the day-to-day operations, while Scott will also be involved in areas of strategic planning.
“We’ve each got strengths which do not impinge upon the other. For instance, Scott has a very strong business affairs background, and I have a very strong marketing background.”
Schwartz said he was determined to make USA Films a “truly bicoastal company,” with marketing and distribution execs in both its Gotham and L.A. offices.
But the melding of October and Gramercy is expected to result in a number of layoffs. “There’s some redundancy between the two companies, so some downsizing is inevitable,” said Schwartz, who added that he expected any personnel changes to be made within four weeks.
Not another Miramax
Schwartz downplayed published reports that USA Films’ goal was to challenge Miramax for dominance in the niche feature arena.
“This company has to create its own voice,” Schwartz said. “We have to look at all of the existing companies and try to put something together that’s essentially the same but figure out how to tweak it to make it better.”
Schwartz noted the potential for cross-marketing and merchandising through USA’s holdings in the Internet, television and other entertainment-related ventures.
Some limited cross promotions for October’s “Trippin’,” which opens Wednesday, are already in place through Ticketmaster.
But Schwartz added, “It’s all about the filmmakers, and maintaining our relationships. The company will live and die on the choices of which directors and producers we choose to bring in.”
After “Trippin’ ,” the company’s next major release will be the Albert Brooks film “The Muse,” expected to go out in late August.
Schwartz said that USA Films must set itself to the task of sorting through the filmmaker deals and development projects from both companies.
“Between marrying the two slates and getting into the two dozen or so deals we have as well as 100 or 200 development projects, there’s a lot to do and its exciting.”
Under Schwartz, Gramercy saw box office success with such diverse, upscale fare as “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Dead Man Walking,” “Elizabeth” and “Fargo” as well as the British kidpic “Bean.”
Prior to the formation of Gramercy in 1992, Schwartz spent two years as exec VP of Miramax films, where he was responsible for the overall marketing of the company’s film releases, including “My Left Foot,” “Cinema Paradiso,” “The Grifters,” “Mr. & Mrs. Bridge” and “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.”