Fox pair promoted to prexy post

Utley, Gilula get lift at Searchlight

After helping to steer the specialty label through its lengthy hot streak, Stephen Gilula and Nancy Utley have been rewarded with promotions to the prexy post at Fox Searchlight.

Move had been expected since Peter Rice relinquished the Searchlight prexy reins in March and moved over to Fox Broadcasting Co. as entertainment chairman. However, there had also been some speculation that an exec would be hired over Gilula and Utley.

Instead, Gilula and Utley, who inked multiyear deals, will report to Fox Filmed Entertainment chairmen Tom Rothman and Jim Gianopulos, who expanded their duties in the shakeup following Peter Chernin’s decision to step down as News Corp. prexy and chief operating officer at the end of this month.

Move also comes on the heels of reports that Rupert Murdoch has homed in on former News Corp. senior exec Chase Carey to take over Chernin’s post as his top lieutenant.

Rothman and Gianopulos hailed Gilula and Utley’s track record and relationships with filmmakers. They said: “We are in the enviable position of being able to tap such quality executives from our ranks, which signifies continuity not only within the company but within the specialized film business, as well.”

Utley and Gilula, who had served as Searchlight’s COOs since 2006, will manage all aspects of the company with president of production Claudia Lewis. The pair has been on an impressive run. Over the past five years, their slate has nabbed four best picture nominations and a win earlier this year for “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Though they came from different backgrounds, many say Utley and Gilula’s sensibilities are closely aligned. Utley is a marketing vet who came up the ranks through 20th Century Fox’s marketing department before landing at the specialty division in 1999. Gilula, a co-founder of the Landmark Theaters chain, joined Searchlight in 2000 and became known as a distribution expert who became a pioneer of strategically platforming titles. He is best known for discovering “Bend It Like Beckham” at the Cannes Film Festival, while Utley is credited with adding such pics as “Waitress” and “Super Troopers” to Searchlight’s slate.