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Anschutz groups film biz

Weil tapped as CEO, Granat as prexy

HOLLYWOOD — In a major reorg of his film enterprises, billionaire Philip Anschutz announced the creation of the Anschutz Film Group as a holding company for his two production shingles, Walden Media and Bristol Bay Prods., the latter formerly known as Crusader Entertainment.

David Weil, the O’Melveny & Myers lawyer who has been Anschutz’s principal adviser on his film investment strategy, will lead AFG as its chief executive. Cary Granat, a co-founder of Walden, will be AFG’s prexy.

Moves had been widely anticipated (Daily Variety, Jan. 27).

One of the principal reasons for the reorg, Weil said, was to provide centralized services to the independent creative teams at Walden and Bristol Bay, including legal, finance, business affairs, marketing and physical production.

But AFG, which will be based in Los Angeles, will also fit more closely within Anschutz’s entertainment empire, which includes the nation’s largest exhib chain (Regal Entertainment Group) and the large live-entertainment division (Anschutz Entertainment Group) that includes Staples Center, the Kodak Theater, sports teams and live event production.

Weil said AFG would consider possible acquisitions that could give the company distribution and marketing capabilities.

Asked if AFG was looking to self-distribute, Weil said, “We’re open to any new business opportunity that makes sense. I wouldn’t rule anything out at the moment.”

Team assembled

Rounding out the AFG management team are chief operating officer Jess Wittenberg, who joins after a 15 year stint as chief operating officer of Castle Rock, and chief financial officer Francesca Hickson, who ankled as chief financial officer of the Screen Actors Guild last November, citing the stresses of the job (Daily Variety, Nov. 6).

Reorg comes within weeks of the expiration of Walden’s output deal with the Walt Disney Co., which will release the company’s “Around the World in 80 Days,” in June. Those two companies have also pacted to produce “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Weil said Walden is considering other studios as well as reupping with Disney.

Granat will continue to serve as CEO of Walden, with co-founder Michael Flaherty remaining prexy and heading the company’s Boston office. Flaherty also will add the title of exec VP of AFG.

At Bristol Bay, Lenny Kornberg, formerly a senior VP at Universal, will take over as exec VP of Bristol Bay and the shingle’s creative leader.

Kornberg replaces Howard Baldwin, former chair and CEO, and Karen Baldwin, exec VP of creative affairs, who have become independent producers with a deal at Bristol Bay.

Bristol Bay, which will continue Crusader’s first-look deal with Paramount, pacted with U to distrib “Unchain My Heart: The Ray Charles Story” starring Jamie Foxx.

It’s currently in production on “Sahara,” with Matthew McConaughey toplining and Breck Eisner directing Par is planning a fourth-quarter release. Bestselling novelist Clive Cussler sued Crusader in January for allegedly changing the “Sahara” screenplay without Cussler’s consent.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)