Goodman, Grey get down to business

Paramount moves forward after Friday's shakeup

Monday marks the start of Paramount: The Next Generation.

After the exits of John Lesher (who, despite earlier reports, is heading toward a buyout, although he was offered a production deal) and Brad Weston on Friday, new Par film group prexy Adam Goodman and chairman-CEO Brad Grey will start dealing with the upcoming production sked — as well as rethinking the management procedures.

In the past Grey has allowed his execs a lot of freedom in running the film division, but he’s now expected to play a much bigger role.

The slate for 2010 is in good shape; many of the films are properties developed jointly with DreamWorks, while there are few internal Par-only projects. But Goodman (who previously held the title of production prexy) and Grey will be focusing on building the slate for 2011 and beyond.

Par’s mandate is to distribute 14-16 pics per year, with DreamWorks Animation and Marvel together providing at least four.

Paramount said vice chairman Rob Moore will continue to oversee Goodman on business affairs. With Goodman’s ascension, it’s clear that the brief DreamWorks acquisition, which saw a lot of personality clashes, did have some benefits for Par. The studio still has the slate of projects it developed with DreamWorks and the possibility of working with the company again with out having to pay the annual overhead, Par got custody of a key DreamWorks exec.

While Paramount’s marketing and distribution divisions scored record B.O. success in 2007 and 2008, the production side lagged. Many agents complained that it was hard to tie down deals there, and the film pipeline was too slow.

Par could no longer afford to rely on its own projects once DreamWorks departed and Par Vantage was folded into the parent. Studio execs still maintain that they have high hopes for the MTV-Nickelodeon film unit.

Filmmakers and producers with first-look deals include J.J. Abrams, Martin Scorsese, Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Brad Pitt.

It’s ironic that the changes are happening just as the studio is enjoying a socko summer. Abrams’ “Star Trek” rebirthed the franchise and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” is expected to have a monster opening this weekend. But those hits couldn’t mask problems at the studio.

Lesher may not have proved a perfect fit for the job, but he’s the latest in Par’s revolving door for the last five years. The production division has become Grey’s Achilles heel, as he twice put film production in the hands of newcomers to that area: Gail Berman, a well-respected TV exec, and Lesher, who before his Paramount Vantage role had a long career as a top talent agent, most recently as a partner at Endeavor.

Goodman comes with far more film production experience than his two predecessors: He had been production prexy at DreamWorks, then took a top production job at Paramount six months ago, after DreamWorks and Par parted ways.

All of the studio’s labels will report to Goodman, who learned a lot by working with Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider — and, crucially, has first-hand knowledge of the projects in development.

Ever since Par parent Viacom bought DreamWorks in December 2005, Goodman has overseen a string of commercial successes including “Transformers,” “Hotel for Dogs,” “Blades of Glory,” “Disturbia,” “Tropic Thunder” and “Eagle Eye.”

“Adam has proven himself to be a terrific executive with a track record of having shepherded some incredibly successful films,” Grey said in Friday’s statement. “We have worked closely with Adam over the last few years and look forward to expanding his duties.”

In that same press release (which described the studio as streamlining its exec structure), Grey said, “John (Lesher) has made great contributions to Paramount and has nurtured a series of powerful films which have had a true cultural impact. We look forward to working with him in the future.”

Privately, however, higher-ups said the style of Lesher (and, to a lesser extent, Weston) alienated bosses, who didn’t feel Lesher’s behavior was in line with the corporation’s “standards,” in the words of one exec. But this is Hollywood, where personal lives always take a back seat to the bottom line, and the Lesher tenure points up some interesting questions for Par.

First, Lesher’s key assets were good taste and strong talent relationships. But are those still the priorities for a studio exec in the new world order? There’s a reason why other studios have teams — Fox’s Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman, Sony’s Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton, Universal’s David Linde and Marc Shmuger — that provide checks and balances between creativity and the bottom line. That’s one reason why Grey will need to be more hands-on in this third attempt to get it right on the film side. (After appointing relative newcomers Berman and Lesher, Grey tended to leave a lot of day-to-day decisions to his film executives.)

Second, since many of Par’s biggest hits of the last few years were with other entities — the first “Transformers” with DreamWorks, “Iron Man” with Marvel — Grey and his team will have to figure out their relationships with other companies.

The Sherry Lansing regime was famous for making co-productions with other studios, giving them foreign rights. But with the UIP international partnership with Universal ended and the industry more focused on global tallies, Grey and his team will have to decide how much it wants to share.

The “Transformers” sequel looks to be a winner, but Par’s recent Eddie Murphy pic “Imagine That” was the latest fizzle from the studio, following such titles as last summer’s “The Love Guru” and recent release “Dance Flick.”

Though Paramount proper has a great market share and some terrific tallies in the past few years, one exec in the know said that its profitability last year was below that of such specialty units as Fox Searchlight and Focus Features.

In his stint at Par Vantage, Lesher oversaw “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Babel,” “There Will Be Blood” and “No Country for Old Men.” All of those were prestige films, but only the docu could be considered extremely profitable.

At parent Par, he and Weston oversaw “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “Star Trek.” While “Button” garnered plenty of media and Oscar attention, it was probably less profitable than “Juno,” for example.

Weston played a key role in guiding Abrams’ “Star Trek,” but Abrams is safely ensconced on the lot via his first-look deal with Par.

Weston, who was prexy of production, is expected to get a production deal at Par. He joined the studio in 2005, shortly after Grey took over. He had previously been co-president of Dimension Films.

The studio’s upcoming slate is dominated by remaining DreamWorks titles, DreamWorks Animation titles and Marvel projects. Par titles include “G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra,” “Shutter Island,” “The Last Airbender,” Abrams’ “Morning Glory” and “Footloose.”

(Michael Fleming contributed to this report.)