Inside Move: WB’s boutique chic

Studio sets Gill on quest for niche riches

In AOL’s turbulent sea of media assets, Warner Bros. stands out for its tentpoles — juggernauts like “Harry Potter,” “The Matrix” and “Scooby Doo” — that open on thousands of screens, pushing profits across all divisions.

But as of last week the studio now has its own boutique: Warner Independent Pictures, a specialty division run by Mark Gill, which intends to produce or acquire up to 10 films per year, with budgets up to $20 million.

Years in the planning, the division gives Warner a seat at the indie table alongside long-entrenched classics divisions United Artists, Paramount Classics and Focus Features.

It also fulfills Warner’s ambition to be a place where, as production chief Jeff Robinov puts it, “filmmakers want to do all of their films, from their first to their last, from the smallest to the biggest.”

Gill is a telling hire. For years, he was L.A. prexy of Miramax, a company that in the 1990s helped redraw the line separating studio and indie film, driving studio competitors to the surprising realization that small-scale domestic and foreign-lingo pics can earn top box office grosses and Oscars.

Gill, who worked for three years at Rogers & Cowan, will need his PR skills to convince filmmakers that the new division’s name, Warner Independent, is not an oxymoron and that their voices will be heard amid the studio’s massive slate.

But the formation of WIP does lend a boost to the ailing indie sector. And Gill’s hiring of key execs should come as a relief to a beleaguered film community hungry for cash and new distribution outlets.

Gill will also have to navigate a confusing swirl of interests. Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney‘s Section Eight, which has a deal at the studio, is expected to have keen interest in the outfit. Gill reports to Robinov, but ultimate greenlight authority lies with Alan Horn, president and COO of Warner Bros. Entertainment.