Friday, May 19, 2006

Paramount unveils new specialty film unit

Paramount unveils new specialty film unit

Friday May 19 9:26 AM ET

Film studio Paramount Pictures on Friday unveiled a new division called Paramount Vantage aimed at releasing low-budget films with broad appeal to capture audiences in the expanding independent film arena.

The unit's formation is the first major move for John Lesher, who recently took the reins at Paramount's specialty film unit, Paramount Classics. It also comes as studio chairman Brad Gray continues to revamp Paramount Pictures.

Paramount Vantage aims to release eight to 10 films a year, ranging from low-budget comedies and horror films to sophisticated art house fare such as "Babel," starring Brad Pitt, which premieres this week at the Cannes film festival.

"Investing in a specialty division so that we can become competitive in this area has been a part of Brad Grey's overall vision for turning around the studio," Lesher said in a statement.

The low-budget, or "specialty" divisions of major studios have become increasingly important in recent years because the movies they produce and release are made for relatively small amounts of money, but can reap huge profits if successful.

Last year's award-winning gay romance "Brokeback Mountain," for instance, was produced for about $14 million by Universal Pictures' Focus Features specialty unit and took in $178 million at box offices worldwide.

When Gray took the reins of Paramount Pictures in 2005, one of his main goals was revamping and expanding the studio's specialty unit, Paramount Classics. Gray hired Lesher to come in and remake the division.

As part of Friday's announcement, the company said Paramount Classics would continue to exist, but now focus on films with a more narrow appeal such as foreign-language movies and documentaries like the upcoming global warming film "An Inconvenient Truth," which also is screening at Cannes.

Both Paramount Classics and Paramount Vantage will be overseen by Lesher.

Other films to be released by the new Paramount Vantage label in 2007 include Joel and Ethan Coen's "No Country for Old Men," and Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood."

Paramount Pictures and the two specialty divisions are part of the entertainment operations of Viacom Inc..

Link to article on Yahoo

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