Pair has Universal appeal

Insiders elevated to top slots

Choosing to stay in the family, Ron Meyer has upped Marc Shmuger to chairman and has tapped Focus co-president David Linde as co-chairman of Universal Pictures.

The two replace Stacey Snider, who recently departed to become co-chair and CEO at DreamWorks.

Though the titles are different — Shmuger got the chairman moniker due to his longer tenure at Universal –the jobs are supposedly equal.

Announcement does not come as much of a surprise, as the two execs were considered the most likely ones to get the job. Two are cut from the same cloth, with both having distribution and marketing backgrounds.

With the need to stabilize the head office, Universal, by tapping Linde, is taking the big risk of upsetting the dynamic at Focus, which is coming off a stellar year with “Brokeback Mountain,” “The Constant Gardner” and “Pride & Prejudice.”

Indeed, in addition to Focus, the announcement of Shmuger and Linde also has implications for such suppliers as Imagine; production units Working Title and Rogue, which is Focus’ genre division; and other U arms, including homevideo and new technology.

It also raises questions about international duties and reporting structure, as Universal and Paramount are phasing out the UIP partnership.

Under a shakeup announced last fall, United Intl. Pictures will distribute Paramount and Universal pics in 20 countries, down from the 35 countries in which it now operates. Par and U will establish their own separate international operations in the other 15 territories, headed by David Kosse at U and Andrew Cripps at Par.

The studio’s homevideo division — which is about to release “King Kong” on DVD — will continue to report to Rick Finkelstein,  Universal Pictures president and COO.

Still, Meyer continued to emphasize stability in a memo he sent Thursday morning to U employees. “To have them both come from our deep bench of talent gives us a unique competitive advantage and provides continuity for the business and the entire team,” he wrote.

Producers on the lot and others who do business with U mostly cheered the duo’s promotion. Because Shmuger has long worked on Lankershim, he is more of a known quantity in Hollywood than Linde. “It immediately signifies a unity, not a disruption,” said Brian Grazer of Imagine Entertainment. “If they pulled someone from the outside, it could be jarring. The fact is they found a way to create an equation within the culture that already existed there. So it creates tremendous comfort.”

Shmuger and Linde are still hammering out the details, but they plan to work closely together.

Linde said, “What we are going to do is we’re creating an office of the chairman” — one they’ll both occupy. As a symbol of the collaborative effort, they plan to work out of the same office suite.

“The way we’re thinking about it is we’re going to reconfigure space so that it is where people will go and decisions will be made,” Shmuger said. “Geographically and organizationally and even spiritually we’ll be connected,” he added.

“The idea of two people doing it makes sense to me,” said producer Barry Mendel (U’s “Munich”). “The corporatization of the job is a fact of life. It is a process, and the process is increasingly complex. The job is a bigger and bigger job, not a smaller job.”

The pairing of Shmuger and Linde is different than other duos around town. Their similar backgrounds contrast with the different paths taken early on by Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman at 20th Century Fox, or Amy Pascal and Jeff Blake at Sony.

When Shmuger and Linde’s names were being floated, some questioned whether their lack of production experience would be an issue.

But they pointed out that both have established relationships with filmmakers and voiced confidence in the current production team led by prexies Donna Langley and Jon Gordon.

“There’s incredible production leadership with Donna and Jon,” Shmuger said, “and we hope to continue to empower them and build on the collaborative momentum.”

Linde added, “You’re talking about two people who have been working with filmmakers for a very long time and perhaps have had a different involvement in the development and production process, but have been involved in that process.”

In a statement, Meyer said, “I’m confident that Marc and David will have an extraordinary partnership. Marc has been a critical part of our team since joining the company in 1998, and he led our global marketing and distribution efforts during our most successful years.” He added, “David has demonstrated tremendous leadership as he has built Focus Features into a first-rate production and distribution company that is known as much for its ability to garner accolades as it is for its breakout box office successes.”

Shmuger has been vice chair since 2000, responsible for a portfolio that includes worldwide marketing and distribution. Since NBC purchased Universal, he has also co-chaired its internal marketing council, which oversees cross-promotion across film and TV platforms.

He first joined U in 1998 as marketing prexy after a seven-year stint at Sony Pictures Entertainment, where he held several marketing titles, eventually rising to exec VP of worldwide marketing. Linde has been co-prexy of Focus with James Schamus since the company was formed in 2002 as U’s specialty unit. Before that he had been co-prexy of Good Machine, leading its international unit, which was formed in 1997. Prior to that venture, he spent six years at Miramax as an acquisitions veep after sales stints with Fox/Lorber and Paramount Pictures.

Gotham-based Linde is planning to relocate his family to L.A. during the summer.

(Ted Johnson in Hollywood contributed to this report.)

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