After 15 years of churning out some of Paramount Pictures' biggest hits, producer Scott Rudin is shifting his movie company to rival Walt Disney Co., where he is expected to help reinvent the company's specialty unit, Miramax Film Corp.
Rudin confirmed Monday that he planned to sign a five-year production deal that would give Disney first crack at all of his projects spread across the studio's three film labels: Touchstone Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures and Miramax.
His deal comes at a crucial time for Disney, which last month finalized a corporate divorce with Miramax co-founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein after years of tension. In Rudin, Disney will have in its fold a producer who not only makes commercial hits but has an eye for the kind of Oscar-worthy material and talent that has long been Miramax's signature.
Considered one of Hollywood's most prolific and successful moviemakers, Rudin ranks alongside fellow Disney producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Imagine Films' Brian Grazer in the top echelon of the industry's film suppliers.
Rudin, 46, has produced for Paramount and other studios such mainstream hits as "School of Rock," "Clueless," "The Addams Family" and "Sister Act." At the same time, he has gambled on riskier fare, including the critically acclaimed films "The Hours," "The Truman Show" and "Wonder Boys."
His impending departure from Paramount spells the end of a long, sometimes stormy, relationship that became increasingly strained as the Viacom Inc.-owned studio cracked down on costs while struggling to produce more hits. Rudin wielded considerable behind-the-scenes clout at the studio, with so much autonomy that he operated as something of a sovereign power.
"It was a very difficult and complicated decision to leave," Rudin said from his New York headquarters. "Despite the bumps, it was a fantastic marriage."
A Paramount spokeswoman said late Monday, "We've been informed by Scott Rudin's representatives that at the end of his term at Paramount, he plans to enter into a production deal at Disney. We wish him every success in his future."
Rudin for years produced dozens of profitable Paramount films, which also included "Sleepy Hollow" and "The Firm." But last year his lineup missed, notably with expensive remakes of "The Stepford Wives" and "The Manchurian Candidate."
Rudin's stature at the studio began to erode last year, particularly as Viacom launched an overhaul of Paramount's film group, engineered by co-President Tom Freston.
Rudin was irked last fall when Freston criticized "The Stepford Wives" at an investor conference as the kind of costly film for older audiences that Paramount should not make.
"Instead of spending $120 million on 'The Stepford Wives,' " Freston said, "we could have made three pictures targeted at a younger audience that could be a lot more profitable."
The harsh comment was a direct indictment of studio Chairwoman Sherry Lansing, who for the last 12 years had been Rudin's closest ally, along with her Viacom boss, Jonathan Dolgen. Dolgen was forced out last summer. In November, Lansing announced she would be retiring from show business to pursue philanthropic ventures.
"I had a hugely emotional response to Sherry and John leaving and the heart went out of the place for me," Rudin said.
His diminishing power at Paramount also was evident when Freston tapped talent manager and television producer Brad Grey to succeed Lansing, spurning Rudin's close friend, production chief Donald De Line.
Even under Lansing's regime, Rudin's tensions with Paramount had been building. He fought with the studio over the budget of "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events," walking off the project.
But Paramount long treated Rudin as royalty. Lansing turned to Rudin anytime she needed a big movie to fill a summer or holiday release slot. Last summer, Rudin came through with "Manchurian Candidate" after the project had languished for years.
Rudin, however, was livid when Paramount premiered it against his Disney release, "The Village," stealing potential crowds from "Manchurian Candidate."
Rudin also had been increasingly frustrated when the studio passed on some of his smaller, specialized films. Those included director Wes Anderson's movies "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou" and "The Royal Tenenbaums." Disney stepped in to make both movies.
Rudin has 18 months remaining on his Paramount deal and still owes the studio two movies this year, a commitment he said he would honor. But he's expected to terminate his contract early by invoking a "key man" clause, which specifies that he reports only to Lansing and Dolgen.
Rudin's unhappiness at Paramount was Disney's opportunity.
For months Rudin was wooed by Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook and production chief Nina Jacobson, both of whom have worked with him on such Disney movies as "The Village" as well as the Anderson films.