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Lion lining up staff, slate

Studio hires Woods as distrib prexy

Besides beefing up on movies, the new MGM is beefing up on staff.

As the Lion transitions into a theatrical distributor and marketer, studio has hired former Par exec Clark Woods as its new distribution prexy. A head of marketing is expecting to be named soon.

News was announced at a press luncheon held Tuesday at the MGM Tower in Century City, where, as expected, MGM chairman and CEO Harry Sloan and MGM chief operating officer Rick Sands unveiled a slate of 14 films that MGM will release in 2006 and 2007.

MGM also said it is moving forward on a sequel to “The Thomas Crown Affair,” starring Pierce Brosnan, and another “Pink Panther” pic with Steve Martin and producer Bob Simonds. Sony will have the option to co-finance and distrib the pic, as it did on the recent Inspector Clouseau redo, which has so far grossed $70 million at the domestic box office.

Tuesday’s event was the first of five “The Lion Roars Again” conferences scheduled over the next several months, when MGM will continue to roll out news.

The first MGM release will be the Weinstein Co.’s “Lucky Number Slevin,” starring Josh Harnett, on April 7. That will be followed by Bauer Martinez’s “Harsh Times,” starring Christian Bale, on June 2.

Pics such as the Weinsteins’ “Clerks II,” to be released Aug. 18, and Bauer Martinez’s “Van Wilder Deux: The Rise of Taj,” coming out Dec. 1, are sequels to films that were huge hits in the DVD and ancillary markets — not an insignificant detail, considering that a large part of MGM’s strategy in turning to distribution is to provide content for the Lion’s numerous domestic and international output deals, including Showtime and Movielink.

More pics are expected to be announced in coming weeks, along with partnerships with new production entities such as Sam Nazarian. At this point, MGM has pacted non-exclusive distribution deals with the Weinstein Co., Bauer Martinez, Lakeshore Entertainment and Sidney Kimmel Entertainment.

Sony, which owns a 20% stake in MGM, has a three-year deal to distrib the new pics in the domestic homevid market and in the Blu-ray format.

Sony will continue to distrib MGM’s existing 4,000-title library, though MGM has the option to terminate the deal in April. People close to the two companies say at this point MGM has no plans to do so.

Sony also has the right to co-finance pics out of the MGM library, such as “Pink Panther” and the upcoming James Bond pic “Casino Royale.” The intent is to co-produce up to 25 pics, though that number could change.

Sony chairman Michael Lynton appeared at the event and said that MGM’s growth was “good news” for MGM and a “win-win situation” for both companies considering that a bigger library means more content for Sony to distribute.

Besides refreshing the MGM library and providing content for output deals, Sloan said the impetus to rebuild MGM into a distribution company was to fill the void left by DreamWorks, Miramax and the former MGM. DreamWorks is now owned by Paramount, and Miramax is a scaled-back operation now that the Weinstein brothers have formed their own company.

Sands stressed the efficiency of not having the overhead of production and development divisions, and said MGM’s distribution department would operate out of Century City rather than having branch offices around the country, as per the traditional studio model.

In his new role, Woods, a 25-year vet of Paramount, will supervise a team of about 50 in all areas of distribution.