Clark exits Col o’seas

Power-struggle with Blake leads prez to ankle

Following the departure of his longtime lieutenants, Duncan Clark will ankle as prexy of Columbia TriStar Film Distributors Intl. as early as next week.

Clark is understood to have been dissatisfied with the evaporation of his direct-report relationship to Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman John Calley — a situation re-engineered in April 1999 with the promotion of Jeff Blake to the newly created position of worldwide sales and distribution prexy. Clark has been prexy for more than four years.

In an effort to trim costs and remove management layers overseas, Blake earlier sacked two longtime Clark colleagues: Kunikazu Sogabe, who had run Sony’s distribbing in Southeast Asia and departed in late March; and Lester McKellar, London-based head of European, Middle Eastern and African distribution, who left in early June. Both departures presumably added to Clark’s disaffection for his bosses at Sony.

The cost-cutting moves are understandable given that the international division’s releases grossed $573.5 million last year — a 26.5% dip from the previous year, largely thanks to the paucity of blockbuster Col fare.

The studio’s biggest grosser of 1999, “Big Daddy,” raked in nearly $164 million in domestic B.O., but didn’t do nearly as well overseas.

Still, distribution insiders say that’s probably because of Adam Sandler’s lack of B.O. appeal overseas and the somewhat schmaltzy genre — which often does not travel well outside the States — rather than any shortcoming in the way “Daddy’s” distribution was handled.

Culture clash

One Sony insider said that Blake had complained of haphazard marketing of pics overseas and craved an approach that more closely mirrored the studio’s domestic release marketing method.

Blake had recently been focusing on moving up the foreign release skeds of pics like “The Patriot” and “The Vertical Limit” to dates closer to their domestic releases in order to more fully capitalize on demand driven by Internet-amplified U.S. marketing buzz.

“Jeff (Blake) could not have been more direct when twice at Cinema Expo he thanked ‘his team,’ which included Tony Manne,” confided one distribber Thursday at the Amsterdam exhibbers’ confab, “but he completely ignored Duncan and never mentioned his name in public. That was noted by many.”

But the source noted that Manne had already been informed he would not likely be Clark’s successor.

Clark was traveling in London and could not be reached for comment. A call to Blake’s office was not returned.

A spokeswoman for the studio also declined comment.

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