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Relativity ups Walters to co-COO

Promotion comes in wake of exec shakeups

Relativity Media is poised to name Happy Walters as co-chief operating officer of the entire company.

Walters, who joined in 2009, is prexy of both Relativity Music and Relativity’s Rogue sports division.

Relativity has operated without a COO since Brian Edwards ankled the position in December, the fifth in a string of high-level departures that fueled rumors of instability at the minimajor.

It was not immediately clear with whom Walters would share his co-COO title. Relativity co-presidents Tucker Tooley and Steve Bertram will remain co-presidents.

Exec departures at the company began at the beginning of 2011 with the resignation of Bill Sutman. Marketing and distribution prexy Peter Adee followed in April and production prexy Michael Joe moved over to hedge fund Elliott Management in May to oversee the company’s investment in Relativity. A few days before Edwards left his position — after less than six months on the job — senior VP of acquisitions Joe Matukewicz took a position with Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions.

Promotion also comes amid continued rumblings of financial strain at the company. Last year, reports surfaced of an increasingly frayed relationship between the minimajor and main backer Elliott. Relativity began discussions with JP Morgan Chase & Co. about raising funds to buy out Elliott’s stake, but those talks stalled.

Relativity is not without financial backing: In November, billionaire Ron Burkle made a loan to the company for an undisclosed amount. And as of last week the supermarket mogul was in serious talks with Relativity to acquire Elliott’s minority stake in the minimajor, according to sources with knowledge of the discussions.

The indie distribution realm remains a volatile one, with talks of a merger between Summit and Lionsgate the latest bellwether of change.

Relativity started distributing titles in 2010, and seemed to have a good relationship with Elliott at the end of 2009.

“Our film-related activities continued to perform well,” the hedge fund stated at the end of 2008 in a confidential fiscal year report to investors obtained by Variety. “Our investment with Universal Pictures generated positive returns as the fall slate was released and revenues exceeded studio expectations. Relativity Media continued its rapid growth. It recently hired a highly-experienced CFO from a division of Universal Studios (Joe). It also created Relativity Reel, a television division which has already sold 15 shows in the past quarter. Finally, Relativity completed the acquisition of Rogue Pictures, a genre label … at an attractive price.”

Walters, a former music supervisor, has worked closely with Kavanaugh on music in Relativity-produced projects.

The company’s big-budget “Immortals” has grossed more than $200 million worldwide, and its $100 million Snow White pic “Mirror, Mirror” hits U.S. theaters in March.

Relativity declined to comment.

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