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Friedman, Wachsberger to head Lionsgate movie division

Exex to be co-chairs of Motion Picture Group

Summit toppers Rob Friedman and Patrick Wachsberger have agreed to run the movie division of Lionsgate, a week after Lionsgate completed its $412.5 million acquisition of Summit.

Lionsgate made the announcement Friday morning before the stock market opened. Joe Drake, current president of Lionsgate’s motion picture group, has agreed to stay on through the release of Lionsgate’s “The Hunger Games” on March 23 before departing.

Lionsgate co-chairman and CEO Jon Feltheimer had promised when the deal closed that he would announce the specifics of management structure within a week or two.

The announcement said Friedman and Wachsberger will oversee domestic and international feature film acquisition, production and distribution business, as well as the home entertainment releases of theatrical feature films.

“Rob and Patrick have built a remarkable organization at Summit, and they possess all the entrepreneurial leadership qualities that define our Lionsgate culture,” said Feltheimer and vice chairman Michael Burns. “They are two of the most talented motion picture executives in our industry, and they have a history of building successful companies. Their addition to our senior management team should accelerate our continued growth into a global media powerhouse.”

Friedman and Wachsberger transformed Summit from a foreign sales company into a full-service production and distribution studio starting in 2007. Friedman, who had been vice chairman at Paramount, came on board at that point as Summit announced a $1 billion financing deal.

Lionsgate will have a blockbuster in November in Summit’s “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2” and “The Hunger Games” is expected to perform well. There are 17 other films on the slate this year — mostly low-to-mid budget efforts — with first two opening against each other on Jan. 27 when action comedy “One for the Money,” starring Katherine Heigl, goes up against Summit’s action thriller “Man on a Ledge,” starring Sam Worthington.

Drake became head of the Lionsgate motion picture group in 2007 when Lionsgate acquired Mandate Pictures in a deal worth $56 million. He’d been Mandate CEO.

Friedman and Wachsberger will report to Feltheimer. The announcement didn’t indicate whether there will be any job cuts at the combined company, which has about 660 employees — 500 from Lionsgate and 160 from Summit — but Feltheimer’s already indicated that there will be some consolidation.

Felthiemer noted in Friday’s announcement that Drake had played a “pivotal” role in developing the “Hunger Games,” based on the Suzanne Collins futuristic trilogy. The second film, “Catching Fire,” has been set for release on Nov. 13, 2013, and Lionsgate plans to split the story of the final book, “Mockingjay” into two films.

The deal, structured as a leveraged buyout, was made amid increasingly tough competition from the six major Hollywood studios — which have accelerated their focus on mega-budget franchises aimed at succeeding on a worldwide basis.

Wachsberger has indicated that Summit’s foreign sales division will be operating as usual at the upcoming Berlin and Cannes film markets.

Lionsgate has two films opening Feb. 24, when it debuts comedy-romancer “Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds” and Summit’s suspenser “Gone,” starring Amanda Seyfried. The next Summit film, action-suspenser “The Cold Light of Day,” starring Bruce Willis, opens April 6 — a week before Lionsgate’s horror-comedy “The Cabin in the Woods.”

Key upcoming titles developed by Lionsgate slate include “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” “The Expendables 2” and “The Last Stand,” marking Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the bigscreen early next year; major upcoming pics developed by Summit include vampire romancer “Warm Bodies,” sci-fier “Ender’s Game,” magician suspenser “Now You See Me” and “Red 2.”

Summit and Lionsgate combined for more than $1 billion in domestic gross in 2010, outpacing Universal, but with Lionsgate stumbling last year, the two mini-majors combined for only about $600 million.

“Jon Feltheimer, Michael Burns and the rest of the Lionsgate team have created one of the most successful and innovative entertainment companies in the world over the past 12 years, and we’re thrilled to marshal all of Lionsgate and Summit’s resources to begin the next chapter in this remarkable growth story,” said Friedman and Wachsberger.

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