Cary Granat is leaving Walden Media, the company he co-founded.
As of Dec. 1, Granat will cease to be co-CEO of the company he formed with billionaire financier Phil Anschutz. Walden’s original focus was to generate three to five educational family films per year along with books and to create an outreach program to tap into the educational marketplace.
While Granat is expected to land his next gig shortly, he will remain a consultant and the company’s creative liaison for “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” the third adaptation of books in the C.S. Lewis series; that film is expected to secure a greenlight within the next two weeks. Michael Apted is aboard to direct the pic.
The company said that Granat will also be a consultant for a single project with AEG Live, the Anschutz-owned concert promoter.
In a statement, Granat and Walden said the parting of the ways was mutual. His exit had long been expected, ever since Michael Bostick left Tom Shadyac’s Shady Acres to become co-CEO alongside Granat. Granat’s vision differed fundamentally with that of David Weil, a lawyer for Anschutz who was drafted to run the Anschutz Film Group in 2004. (Walden was founded in 2001.) They disagreed over the kinds of films Walden should make and how much should be spent on P&A, and the conflict is partly responsible for the company’s checkered track record.
Bostick has shifted the company focus from literary classics to family comedies, as the company tries to generate films with more commercial appeal.
Walden Media would seem to have all the components for success — most importantly, a billionaire financier who owns compatible businesses like movie theaters, sports teams and concert promotions. But inconsistency has prevented it from fulfilling that potential.
Under Granat’s steering, Walden hatched numerous bestselling youth-market books with a joint publishing venture that began at Penguin and has moved to HarperCollins. The company has also generated successful films, topped by “Narnia” film “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” whose global gross topped $700 million.
Walden hasn’t derived much of a benefit from piggybacking on Anschutz’s other businesses, though, and Walden has generated some costly flops, most recently “City of Ember.” The pricey “Narnia” sequel “Prince Caspian” grossed slightly more than half its predecessor.
The company has seen a number of executives depart within the last year and has downsized its joint venture Fox Walden.
Walden may be poised for a course change, though. Production starts slowed thanks to labor unrest and the fact that Bostick pored over Walden’s development slate and then bought several comedy scripts. Indeed, the Fox Walden films “Tooth Fairy” and “Ramona” were both developed by Fox. Walden will be far more active in 2009, with eight final scripts due before the end of this year that are expected to lead to several production starts.
Walden also decides within two weeks whether to move forward on a third Narnia installment, “Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” Unlike the battle-filled last installment, “Dawn Treader” is meant to recapture the magic and fantastical spirit of the original — at a much lower budget. In fact, “Dawn Treader” will get made only on a budget of $100 million-$150 million range — considerably less than the $200 million-plus that “Prince Caspian” reportedly cost.
Walden also has plans to better synergize Anschutz’s other businesses. While preferential treatment in Anschutz-owned theaters could run afoul of the law — Regal is a publicly traded company that comprises the Regal, United Artists and Edwards chains, and Walden doesn’t book its own films, anyway — the Summit-distributed Walden film “Vandslam” will take full advantage of Anschutz’s AEG Live to boost the film’s awareness level. “High School Musical’s” Vanessa Hudgens and Disney Channel’s Alyson Michalka star as high school rockers who enter a battle of the bands contest, and AEG Live will book dates at the Anschutz-owned Nokia venues in New York and Los Angeles, where the girls and other acts from the film will play.
That effort reps the most ambitious use of Walden’s sister companies since the release of “Holes,” when author Louis Sachar appeared at the Anschutz-owned Staples Center to broadcast a lecture to Regal theaters full of students across the country.
Weil denied that was any acrimony in the exit of Granat, who served previous stints as head of Dimension Films and as an executive at Universal Pictures.
“Cary and we both felt this was the right way to formalize the change in the company’s creative direction that will now be overseen by Michael Bostick,” Weil said in a statement. “We all owe Cary a great debt of gratitude for co-founding the company and guiding the Walden brand to its preeminent place in family entertainment today.”