The deal is done. But is it a shotgun marriage?
Warner Bros. finally confirmed Thursday that its business affairs guru Jim Miller has teamed with Steven Reuther atop Bel Air Entertainment. The pair will share the title of chairman and CEO of the 2-year-old co-venture between Warners and Canal Plus.
“This has been in the works for a couple of years,” Miller told Daily Variety. “For me, it’s a natural progression and a dream come true.”
Miller last served as Warners’ prexy of worldwide theatrical business operations.
Both partners had issued denials of the union for several months, despite press reports. Miller stressed that the delay didn’t constitute a warning sign about the new Bel Air structure.
“There was a transitional period” at Warner Bros. that required a lot of attention, Miller explained.
Though insiders describe the relationship between the two as chilly, the new partners offered mutual high praise.
“We’re great friends and have been for years,” Miller said. “We’re going to be partners. There won’t be anything he won’t discuss with me and nothing I won’t discuss with him.”
Reuther said he will specialize in the creative aspects of Bel Air’s business while Miller will focus on finance.
“Any good partners complement each other,” Reuther said. “Jim and I are friends, so we’ve found a way to make it work.”
The move was not Reuther’s idea, it is understood, but rather one of the final levers pulled by longtime studio toppers Bob Daly and Terry Semel before their summer sign-off.
In 1998 Semel asked Miller to sign on for another two years, and at that time the latter negotiated that he be allowed to segue into a dealmaker-strategist role for a WB producer.
Miller, a colorful, outspoken pioneer of the co-financing arena, is widely credited with creating Bel Air. He also helped forge Warners’ long-term deal with Village Roadshow, as well as pacts with Castle Rock and Regency Enterprises.
Miller’s exit from Warners was expected (Daily Variety, Nov. 2, 1999), but not the exact nature of his new post.
One of the most experienced Warners execs, Miller ran all business aspects of the film studio, from joint ventures and output deals to the structure of production agreements.
Upped from business affairs exec VP to the new slot of prexy two years ago, Miller became the de facto budget czar at a crucial time — when the studio was criticized for spending too much on a development slate that some said wasn’t yielding enough hit movies.
As winds of change blew through Burbank last year, some had speculated that Miller would be given the chief operating officer spot now occupied by Alan Horn. Both Miller and Horn, who ascended to power through Castle Rock, have considerable experience in engineering intricate off-balance-sheet financial deals.
In announcing the union Thursday, both Miller and Reuther stressed that Bel Air needs to widen its scope to include TV, video and the Internet. Its film larder is well-stocked, with upcoming releases including “The Replacements,” starring Gene Hackman and Keanu Reeves; “Pay It Forward,” starring Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt; and “Chain of Fools,” with Steve Zahn and Salma Hayek.
At least one exec — WB chairman and CEO Barry Meyer — was willing to say the partnership would help take the company to new heights.
“When you combine Jim’s unparalleled business acumen with Steve’s extraordinary production expertise, you create quite a formidable partnership,” Meyer said in a statement.