Schlessel segues to Col prod’n prexy

Screen Gems exec brings intl. sales, acquisition skills to post

Updated story
Peter Schlessel has been plucked from specialty arm Screen Gems to fill the post of production prexy at Sony’s Columbia Pictures. He will start his new post later this summer.

After a stint as an associate at a New York law firm Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett, Schlessel began his entertainment career when he joined RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video in 1989 as director legal affairs. Schlessel was promoted to VP in 1994 and to senior veep acquisitions and business affairs in 1994. In 1997, Schlessel became senior VP acquisitions, productions and business affairs and received his exec VP stripes in February.

Studio prexy Amy Pascal commented, “He comes with a whole other set of skills, from acquisitions and in foreign sales. He brought us ‘The Spice Girls’ movie and we made a lot of money with that. He brought us ‘The Wedding Planner’ and I think we’ll make a lot of money with that, too.”

Pascal’s 1999 met mixed results. The $78 million Harrison Ford starrer “Random Hearts” made only $31 million domestic. The Robin Williams vehicle “Jakob the Liar” made a paltry $5 million and “Crazy in Alabama” pulled in only $2.1 million. The laffers “Blue Streak,” “Big Daddy” and “Stuart Little” provided financial relief.

Pascal has a slate of upcoming titles that go a long way toward restoring some hormonal balance to the femme-heavy offerings marking her reign: Actioners “The Patriot” with Mel Gibson and “The Hollow Man” with Kevin Bacon, as well as the fourth quarter’s “The Vertical Limit” and Phoenix Pictures’ “The Sixth Day,” will all provide a sharp blast of testosterone to the screen — and, it is hoped, a shot of adrenaline to the Sony’s ledgers.

Business head helps

Sources say that as Pascal’s No. 2, Schlessel is expected to be as much a business partner as a creative head. In addition to overseeing the studio’s production department, Schlessel could also have a hand in the studio’s co-productions and local language productions, as well as overseeing the recently inked deal with Joe Roth’s Revolution Studios.

For now, however, Schlessel’s appointment has left Columbia with an ambiguous reporting structure. It’s unclear to whom Pascal’s recently upped quadrille of exec veepees –Amy Baer, Matt Tolmach, Doug Belgrad and Michael Costigan — will report.

A spokeswoman said Pascal and Schlessel will function as “a team.” According to Pascal, the exec veeps will now report to both, but she would not elaborate on any details of this arrangement, except to say the reporting would “be determined by what the issue was.”

It’s not clear which issues fall specifically under Schlessel’s purview and which shall remain Pascal’s.

Separated from his baby

Schlessel’s responsibilities will no longer include Screen Gems, the Sony label he recently launched and championed with longtime friend and business partner Clint Culpepper, who serves as Screen Gems’ executive VP of production and acquisitions.

Pascal said a search will begin shortly to find Schlessel’s replacement at Screen Gems.

“I think (Culpepper) will like not being the co-head of things, but having a greater leadership responsibility,” said Schlessel.

“I am going to be removed from Screen Gems, but it’s my baby,” he said. “You never leave your babies.”

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