Fireworks founder Firestone exits

VP of acquisitions, co-productions also leaving co.

TORONTO — Fireworks Entertainment CEO Jay Firestone has ankled the company he founded as it narrows its focus to the North American TV market.

Film and TV company was set up in 1996 by the Canuck producer but bought out by CanWest Global in 1998.

“I sold the company to CanWest Global, and I had a five-year contract when I did so,” Firestone, 46, told Daily Variety. “I’m used to being an owner.”

He has a one-year noncompete clause in his contract with Fireworks but says he’s “looking for opportunities.”

Firestone, whose producer credits range from the movie “Black Top” to the TV series “La Femme Nikita,” is based in Toronto but had been spending increasing time in L.A.

“It’s a tough time in the business in general, and I’m going to go shopping. I think there’s some good deals out there.”

Euro sales downturn

Like many indie producer-distribs, Fireworks has been hit both by a downturn in European film sales and by a lack of interest abroad in syndie action hour series.

Firestone hopes to pick up some film projects being developed by Fireworks and to spend more time in the U.S.

The money-losing division of Winnipeg-based CanWest Global, Canada’s largest media company, will now be headed by former Global TV prexy and CEO Gerry Noble, who will be based in Toronto.

“We’re refocusing the operating model somewhat to become more reliant on Canada and less reliant on Europe,” CanWest chief operating officer Tom Strike told Daily Variety.

Cannes plan canned

The downsizing had been in the works for at least a month, with plans for Fireworks to attend the Cannes Film Festival scrapped just weeks ago.

Asked whether the Los Angeles office of Fireworks, which has a staff of four, will be affected, Strike said, “I don’t want to be too specific at this point.”

Fireworks Pictures VP of acquisitions and co-productions Bob Aaronson is also leaving the company shortly.

Daniel Diamond, president of Fireworks Pictures, did not return calls late Monday.

“In the short term we have to turn the feature tap off because it’s too risky and requires too much of our financing ability to get involved properly on a project,” Noble told Daily Variety.

Fireworks hasn’t had a new film production in close to two years.

April pinkslips

About five were pinkslipped from the L.A. office in mid-April as the company tapers down its film division. Staff who have already exited include shingle’s former head of production and development Pliny Porter.

Fireworks’ film distribution credits include “Rat Race” and “Rules of Engagement”; its production credits include the money-losing features “Cletis Tout” and “Interstate 60.”

Fireworks has traditionally been dependent on the European sales market, which has been slumping in recent years.

“The concept is to forge a better partnership using Fireworks between our Canadian operations, Global TV and CH TV, and our U.S. partners for greenlight decisions,” Strike said.

Full TV slate

The company’s TV slate includes “Blake Holsey High,” an NBC Saturday morning show going into its second season of production; the third season of the Tribune syndicated “Mutant X”; and the fourth season of “Andromeda.”

Fireworks president Adam Height noted that the company is continuing to produce and develop for the TV market, with about a dozen projects in various stages, and a pilot, “Wild Card,” recently picked up by Lifetime.

The company has had the ax hovering overhead for some time.

CanWest has invested close to C$300 million ($211 million) in Fireworks over the course of three years, and during the most recent quarterly conference call, analysts questioned the company closely on that division.

(Cathy Dunkley and Elizabeth Guider in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)