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Classics click at WB

Gill named as president of low-budget division

After several false starts, Warner Bros.’ classics division has finally gotten off the ground.

Warner Bros. Entertainment announced Thursday the creation of Warner Independent Pictures, naming former Miramax L.A. prexy Mark Gill as president.

Gill will report to Warners production prexy Jeff Robinov, though ultimate greenlight authority for the division remains with Alan Horn, president and chief operating officer of Warner Bros. Entertainment.

Initially, Warner Independent is expected to produce or acquire up to 10 films per year with production budgets up to $20 million. The division will be based on the lot.

Films are expected to come from new and established directors, acquisitions, and international filmmakers who are part of WB’s local-language production activities.

“Creatively we are very open to the types of films we make. For us, hopefully, its going to be a filmmaker driven agenda. Its really about creating and maintaining filmmaker relationships,” Robinov said.

Gill said of the 10 pics a year, seven to eight will be productions and only two or three acquisitions. He added that he would like to include foreign-language projects in the mix.

“I really want to do a couple a year. I think it’s really important culturally to be involved with them,” he said.

In terms of staffing, Gill said five or six key execs will be hired.

“We will be very lean, but I am looking to hire heads of production, acquisition, distribution, publicity, marketing and business affairs within the next 60-90 days,” Gill said.

Who has greenlight?

Over the issue of how much autonomy Gill will have under the new company, he reiterated that Horn has the greenlight but added, “Alan, Jeff and I will jointly decide how to do things,” with the division expected to make its own marketing and distribution decisions.

“Alan has always been clear in telling me, ‘Find things you love that you think can work; package and budget them and let me know what you’ve got,’ ” Gill said.

Robinov, however, stressed the division will be really a distribution company. “It is not a development company and does not have a development fund per se. ”

Warner Bros. is the last major studio to launch a classics arm; Universal, Fox, Paramount, Sony, Disney and MGM have long-established divisions in place.

Gill made clear that Warner Bros. has made a long-term commitment to the division.

Saving Soderbergh

“Quite clearly it comes in response to keeping filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh at the studio who want to make both big and smaller movies. We will probably be able to help the studio recruit the next generation of interesting filmmakers,” he said.

Gill also noted WB’s experience with such films as “A Mighty Wind” have given it a taste for more product in the indie arena and also acknowledged the division will in part be making movies in consideration for Oscars.

“Warner Independent will operate as a true independent film company,” Robinov said. “We want to be the place where filmmakers want to do all of their films, from their first to their last, from the smallest to the biggest.”

He added: “Would we do a Pedro Almodovar movie for example? Yes for sure. It’s our hope the movies will reflect some filmmaker vision and intent, and in the process we’ll also get to work with really talented actors.”

Sussing slate

Division has already identified several possible pics to be released under the new label.

These include “Home at the End of the World,” starring Colin Farrell; Section Eight’s omnibus pic “Eros”; “Criminal,” an English-language remake of the Argentinean pic “Nine Queens”; and “The Jacket,” for director John Maybury, with Adrien Brody likely to star.

Another pic likely to land at WIP is “Around the Bend,” written by Jordan Roberts, who will make his directorial debut. Pic will star Christopher Walken, Michael Caine and Josh Lucas.

First pic a year off

Although it is unclear which pic will be the first release at the new division, Gill said the first out the gate won’t be until spring or summer 2004.

As to the role Warner-based Section Eight will likely have in the division, Gill said the company is “an important producer and supplier, but has no formal role in the company. We are completely autonomous.”

Gill joins WIP after exiting his post as president of Stratus Film in an amicable settlement just ahead of the expiration of his initial one-year deal with the company.

Stratus producer-financier Bob Yari, who founded the company with producer Mark Gordon last year, said: “Mark Gordon and I agreed that it was a good move for him as well as for Stratus. We will continue to work closely with Mark to produce quality films.”

Stratus status cloudy

It’s not clear who will succeed Gill at Stratus, which has a first-look deal with Universal, though it is expected Gill will have an ongoing production relationship with Stratus through WIP.

“We are very interested in co-financing or having them produce for us going forward,” Gill said.

Yari and Gordon are already talking to potential candidates to fill a president-of-production type post.

Gordon, who’s in post-production on Roland Emmerich tentpole “The World of Tomorrow,” is expected to play a greater day-to-day role in the company.

Stratus chose not to exercise its option to renew Gill’s contract, and the company has been negotiating the terms of his exit for the last several weeks.

At Stratus, Gill was involved with pics including “Laws of Attraction,” starring Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore.

Before Stratus, Gill was Miramax’s L.A. prexy and was responsible for development, production, post-production, acquisitions and marketing. He oversaw films including “Frida,” “In the Bedroom,” “Amelie,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “The Quiet American,” “Central Station” and the upcoming “Under the Tuscan Sun.”