‘Blair’ switch project

Artisan's Curcio ankles; co-CEO Malin takes control

NEW YORK — Mark A. Curcio, co-chief exec officer for Artisan Entertainment, has stepped down, making room for co-CEO Amir Malin to take complete control over the company and its future growth.

Bill Block remains prexy of Artisan, the company behind last year’s blockbuster “The Blair Witch Project.” He’ll take on additional responsibilities related to the company’s Internet initiatives.

Although Artisan refused to comment on the resignation, sources said Curcio’s departure may have been the result of a power struggle with Malin over direction of the company.

But those close to Curcio said the executive, who came to Artisan from the financial world of Bain Capital, has lost interest in operating a film production and acquisitions company in recent months.

“He wasn’t interested in making decisions about what movies to release or how to release them,” said a senior industry insider.

Curcio, who holds 677,107 exercisable shares of the company, will remain a consultant to Artisan while retaining a seat on the board of directors.

Ken Schapiro, recently named chief operating officer, will take on more duties — presumably Curcio’s — in the day-to-day operations of the company.

Rumors had circulated in both New York and Los Angeles for the last three weeks that Curcio might be exiting.

Odd man out?

Malin and other Artisan spokesmen said that the company was on solid ground and that no major shifts were forthcoming. But the co-CEO structure, a business model that few entertainment companies have successfully followed, may have left Curcio the odd man out, with Malin overseeing distribution and acquisitions and Block handling production decisions.

Malin’s promotion to co-CEO provided the strongest evidence that his standing in the company was secure. As late as March, Malin and Curcio jointly shared in every major decision for the company. The two were instrumental in putting together the IPO, filed in February, and both were heavily involved in Artisan’s proclaimed interest in Harvey Entertainment. Harvey may announce in the next 10 days that it will merge with a larger entertainment company, and Artisan is understood to be one of the top three suitors.

One source close to the executive noted that Curcio recently said he was “disappointed that it’s not working out” with Artisan.

“My time at Artisan has been invaluable and I wish the team the best of luck in continuing to build what we have started,” Curcio said in a prepared statement. “I am looking forward to taking a less active role in the day-to-day functions of the company while continuing to help guide Artisan in its current direction of growth and prosperity.”

Malin praised Curcio as “one of the initial architects in the building of Artisan.”

Company, started three years ago under Malin, Curcio and Block’s oversight, came on strong last year with the $136 million domestic box office perf of “Blair Witch Project.”

Artisan has achieved moderate success via its 6,000-plus library and feature revenue.

IPO concerns

But the IPO, through which Artisan was seeking to sell off 20% of the company, has been delayed twice.

Already jittery about the market value of Web ventures, prospective investors are questioning the need for a film company to go public.

Confusion at the top may have further hampered that process. “A co-CEO structure may have left investors wondering who’s in charge and who’s making the decisions,” said one Wall Street analyst. Also, a source close to the Harvey discussions pointed out that “buying a public company like Harvey eliminates the need for the IPO.” Complicating that potential acquisition is Lions Gate’s continuing interest in Harvey. First reported in Daily Variety as a Harvey suitor in May, the indie outfit is still in the running, in addition to an unnamed German outfit considered by one source a front-runner in the bidding.

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