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Abrupt Departure by Gill Surprises Many at Miramax

Head of movie company's Los Angeles office is forming a production outfit with Mark Gordon.

October 16, 2002|Claudia Eller | Times Staff Writer

Mark Gill stood before a packed audience at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Bing Theater on Monday night to introduce "Frida," a pet project he had shepherded as president of Miramax Films' Los Angeles office.

Little did the crowd know that the upcoming movie starring Salma Hayek as the long-suffering Mexican artist Frida Kahlo would be Gill's swan song at Miramax.

Gill, who served as executive producer on "Frida," announced Tuesday that he was leaving Miramax after nearly eight years to start his own production company. The news caught many at Miramax by surprise even though it was widely known within the Walt Disney Co.-owned movie company that Gill had been unhappy for some time.

Sources said that for months there has been friction between Gill and Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein concerning Gill's future role at the company. Earlier this year, Gill explored various other job options and had talks with Warner Bros. about the studio's long-desired plans to start a specialty film label to compete with rivals such as Fox Searchlight, Paramount Classics and Sony Classics.

Sources said when Weinstein learned of the talks, he was furious but attempted to persuade Gill to stay by offering him a new deal. Gill, who never received a formal offer from Warner Bros., told friends and associates that he expected to stay and was ironing out the details.

While Gill would not comment on the negotiations, sources said the deal would allow him to take a greater role in the areas he preferred most, the development, production and acquisition of movies, and would incrementally increase his pay every year. But sources said Weinstein reneged on that offer and instead wanted him to expand his marketing responsibilities by becoming the president of worldwide marketing, a job Gill rejected.

Miramax spokesman Matthew Hiltzik also declined to discuss the negotiations, but acknowledged that Gill and management differed over his future at the company.

"We wanted him to focus completely on marketing, and Mark was interested in productions and acquisitions," Hiltzik said.

Weinstein released a statement praising Gill: "We have the highest respect for Mark's skills and abilities....This was an amicable parting."

However, Miramax executives were surprised to learn Tuesday that Gill had issued a news release announcing his plans to form a production company with Mark Gordon ("The Patriot," "Saving Private Ryan," "Speed") and financier Bob Yari. Gill will serve as president of the newly named venture, Stratus Film Co., which hopes to co-finance, produce and make equity investments in movies in the $10-million to $40-million range. The company has yet to secure financing or a distribution deal with a studio. Separately, Gordon will continue to produce movies under his existing company, Mark Gordon Co., which has a first-look deal at 20th Century Fox.

"My contract ends here [at Miramax] on Friday. I start Monday with the new company," Gill said.

Gill, noting that "opportunities like this are few and far between," said he hopes to make movies like the ones he was involved with at Miramax, including "Frida" and "Next Stop, Wonderland," on which he served as executive producer, and in the acquisitions of "In the Bedroom" and "Amelie."

Gill joined Miramax in 1994 as head of marketing, based at its New York headquarters. Three years later, Gill relocated to Southern California and was named president of Miramax's Los Angeles office with responsibilities for development, production, post production and acquisitions.

Before Miramax, Gill worked at Columbia Pictures and sister studio TriStar Pictures for six years, rising to senior vice president of marketing.

Times staff writer Anita M. Busch contributed to this report.

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