Castle Rock cuts 16 as WB clamps down on coin

Reduced budget leads to drastic cutbacks

Castle Rock Entertainment has downsized its staff, handing out pinkslips to 16 of its 46 employees.

Martin Shafer, Castle Rock chairman and CEO, delivered the news on Monday and Tuesday. Most of the fired employees will leave the company within the next few weeks, he said.

Shafer said the move came after corporate parent Warner Bros. gave the autonomous production company a reduced budget, reflecting the shingle’s status as a wholly owned subsidiary.

Castle Rock will no longer maintain its own public relations or physical production departments. These responsibilities have been absorbed by Warners, as have back-office duties such as financing and accounting.

Founded in 1987, Castle Rock was launched by director Rob Reiner, Shafer, television exec Glenn Padnick and film exec Alan Horn, who left the company in 2000 to become Warners’ president and chief operating officer.

Castle Rock got off to a roaring start with “When Harry Met Sally” in 1989, followed by “Seinfeld,” the sitcom that proved to be the equivalent of winning the Super Lotto.

The outfit most recently found success in 2000 with the Sandra Bullock starrer “Miss Congeniality” and Christopher Guest’s mockumentary “Best in Show.” However, that has not been enough to undo the coffer damage done by pics such as “Proof of Life,” “The Majestic” and “Hearts in Atlantis.”

Company recently released the Bullock pic “Murder by Numbers” and the Val Kilmer vehicle “The Salton Sea,” both of which are doing only modest business. It also will unspool the long-delayed “Pluto Nash” this August.

Hit on horizon?

However, the company’s best odds for a hit in 2002 lie with “Two Weeks’ Notice,” a comedy lensing in New York, starring Bullock and Hugh Grant under the direction of “Miss Congeniality” scribe Marc Lawrence.

This year, Castle Rock also will produce “Dreamcatcher” and the Guest-helmed “A Mighty Wind.”

However, one film that’s not on the docket is Reiner’s next pic. The Castle Rock co-founder, who has not directed since his 1999 “The Story of Us,” will direct drama “Alex and Emma” for Franchise Pictures. Warners has greenlight authority over Castle Rock and would not approve the pic’s budget.

However, the independently financed, Warners-based Franchise — a shingle known for making pics “at a price” — determines which pics it will make and releases them through the studio in exchange for a distribution fee.