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PolyGram Unit to Distribute Films in U.S.

Studios: The newly formed division, to be headed by President Andrew Fogelson, is expected to release 10 to 12 films a year by 2000.

May 03, 1997|CLAUDIA ELLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, hoping to compete with Hollywood's major studios and better position itself in the global marketplace, on Friday launched a new U.S. movie distribution company and announced the executive team who will run it.

The company plans to release five major motion pictures in its first year of operation, working up to 10 to 12 annually by 2000.

The newly formed unit, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment Distribution, will be headed by President Andrew Fogelson, who has been working with PolyGram since 1995 on the strategic planning of the operation. He formed his own management and consulting business in 1988 and previously held top marketing and other executive posts at United Artists, Rastar Films, Warner Bros. and Columbia Pictures.

Under the direction of PolyGram Filmed Entertainment President Michael Kuhn, the Beverly Hills-based company will be moving further into the high-risk arena of big budget films. The new unit will compete head to head with such established majors as Universal Pictures, Disney, Warner Bros., Paramount and 20th Century Fox.

Heretofore, PolyGram's more expensive movies, including "Jumanji," "Mr. Holland's Opus" and "Sleepers," were distributed domestically by the U.S. majors.

PolyGram has either bid or has considered bidding on MGM, Orion and other movie companies that have been available in recent years. But in each case the company has returned to its strategy of quietly building a major film studio.

The film group is a division of PolyGram's global music and entertainment business, which is 75% owned by Dutch giant Philips Electronics. The company is made up of a handful of boutique movie companies including Interscope Communications, Propaganda Films, London-based Working Title Films and Island Pictures.

The company recently launched a TV production arm.

William Soady will serve as president of distribution and Peter Graves was named president of the marketing group.

The newly hired Soady was most recently president and CEO of Showscan Entertainment. From 1988 to 1992, he served as president of domestic distribution for TriStar Pictures, overseeing the release of such hits as "Terminator 2," "Sleepless in Seattle" and "Philadelphia."

He also headed domestic distribution at Universal for seven years.

Graves has been working as a marketing consultant to PolyGram since 1992, involved in such releases as "Fargo," "Dead Man Walking" and "The Usual Suspects," distributed by PolyGram's specialty film unit, Gramercy Pictures.

Gramercy, which also released the worldwide blockbuster "Four Weddings and a Funeral," will continue to operate as a stand-alone operation concentrating on the distribution of lower-budget films.

PolyGram Distribution will concentrate on the wide-release films costing $30 million and above, with commensurate marketing budgets, in thousands of theaters.

The new unit's first release, in mid-September, will be Robert Altman's "The Gingerbread Man," based on an original screenplay by John Grisham and starring Kenneth Branagh, Embeth Davidtz, Daryl Hannah, Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall.

It will be followed by the October release of David Fincher's $70-million thriller "The Game," starring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn.

Peter Hewitt's "The Borrowers," starring John Goodman, will be released in the first quarter of 1998 (mid-February). Other 1998 releases will include Vincent Ward's "What Dreams May Come True," teaming Robin Williams and Cuba Gooding Jr., and Steve Gomer's "Barney's Great Adventure."

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