Par’s new capital: London

Studio taps producer for innovative pix

Producer Michael London has signed a three-year, first-look feature production deal with Paramount Pictures in a signal that the studio is aiming for more innovation and becoming less risk-averse.

London, whose producing credits include Fox Searchlight’s “Thirteen,” DreamWorks’ “House of Sand and Fog” and the upcoming “Sideways” for Fox Searchlight, agreed to the pact after a recent meeting with studio chair Sherry Lansing and prexy Donald De Line. He noted he had not been seeking a studio deal before the confab.

“I’ve gotten to know Sherry Lansing over the last year through her enthusiasm for ‘Sideways’ and ‘Thirteen,’ ” London said. “She and Donald De Line have a real hunger to reinvigorate the studio and to take some chances that haven’t been taken at Paramount of late.”

Par has been moving this year to shed its reputation as the most conservative studio — fiscally and artistically — by opting for a mix of higher-profile and riskier projects.

Jonathan Dolgen, key architect of the bottom-line middle-of-the-road approach, resigned in early June as Viacom Entertainment Group chief, a day after Tom Freston was promoted to oversee the studio as part of his new post as co-president of Viacom.

London said he hopes to develop projects to bridge what he sees as the growing gulf between major studio releases and specialty fare.

“Studio films should still have a distinctive voice and independent films should be able to reach a broader audience without sacrificing their individuality,” he added. “Paramount seems to recognize that they need to play catch-up in this area.”

Veteran exec Jane Garnett will continue to oversee the London slate and produce. Khristina Kravas has been promoted to development exec.

First project set up at Par under London’s deal is an option of film rights to ad exec Will Clarke’s “Lord Vishnu’s Love Handles: A Spy Novel.” It centers on a family man’s midlife crisis triggered by psychic visions that result in his being recruited by the CIA.

London and Garnett will produce “Love Handles.” David Gordon Green (“All the Real Girls”) is attached to direct; screenwriter Grant Morris, who brought the book to London after Clarke self-published it in 2002, will pen the adaptation.

“Sideways,” directed by Alexander Payne, stars Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church and will be released in October. Payne and Jim Taylor scripted the ensemble comedy.

London began his film career as senior VP for Simpson-Bruckheimer Prods., where he worked on “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Top Gun”; before that, he was a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. He also was a producer on “The Guru” and “40 Days and 40 Nights.”

Before joining London, Garnett served as VP of production at Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way and head of development for Andrew Karsch’s Longfellow Pictures. She began her career at the BBC, working for David Thompson as a researcher and script reader.

Kravas joined London last year after a career in features casting, working most recently for Mindy Marin.

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