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Tom Rothman in Joint Venture With Sony to Run TriStar Productions

Former 20th Century Fox topper Tom Rothman has entered into a joint venture with Sony Pictures Entertainment to launch new entity TriStar Productions, the studio announced Thursday.

Rothman, who has worked out of an office on the Sony lot for the past several months, will make up to four films per year as a producer with TriStar Prods. He will also receive an equity stake in the venture, according to a statement from Sony, and report to Sony toppers Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal.

TriStar Prods. will release films through Sony’s TriStar label. Pics will add to Sony’s slate under co-chairman Amy Pascal and complement the studio’s titles from Columbia Pictures, Screen Gems, Sony Pictures Animation, Sony Pictures Classics and Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions. Rothman will also help develop TV programming for Sony Pictures Television.

“In the late 80s, Amy and I worked together for Dawn Steel on the old Columbia Lot in Burbank,” Rothman said in a statement.  “I admired her hugely then and I admire her more now — she has a truly exceptional film mind.  I have known and respected Michael just as long … From working with both Fox 2000 and Searchlight for many years, I have seen how effective a diversified filmmaking strategy can be, and the opportunities today in television are obvious.”

Thursday’s news marks something of a relaunch for TriStar, which was active in production throughout the 80s and into the 90s until former production president Stacey Snider left the company in 1996. Under her leadership, the division produced titles including “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Philadelphia and “Jerry Maguire.” In recent years, TriStar has functioned as a distribution label for Sony. The studio’s next pic, “Elysium,” is actually a TriStar production – the label’s first big-budget film since the late 90s.

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Rothman’s move comes as Sony Corporation has come under pressure from investor Third Point Capital to spinoff its U.S.-based entertainment assets and reduce overhead costs. Rothman, who spent nearly two decades at Fox, was known for keeping a firm grip on the studio’s budgets. He left Fox in September, leaving former co-chairman Jim Gianopulos solely in charge of the studio.

Tom is a rare executive who loves movies, loves filmmakers, understands how to make money and has exquisite taste. He has the perfect programming sensibility to add to our slate mix and it will be a thrill to have him as part of our team,” Pascal commented in a statement.

This isn’t the first time Rothman has helped launch a new division at a studio. During his tenure at Fox, the exec spearheaded the creation of Fox Searchlight, the studio’s specialty label now run by Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula. As Fox co-chairman, he helped oversee Fox juggernauts including “Avatar” and “Titanic.”

In his most recent open criticism of Sony, Third Point’s Daniel Loeb called it “perplexing” that Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai “does not worry about a division that has just released 2013″s versions of ‘Waterworld’ and ‘Ishtar’ back-to-back, instead giving free passes” to studio toppers Lynton and Pascal, the “executives responsible for these debacles.” Loeb was referring to recent flops “After Earth” and “White House Down.”

Sony bowed “Smurfs 2″ on Wednesday. Observers expect the live-action toon to gross in the mid-$30 millions for five days, with at least $100 million anticipated worldwide. Sony will release “Elysium” starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster on August 9.

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