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Grey shuffles his supporting cast

Paramount's chairman puts a new team in place to face a future without DreamWorks.

January 12, 2008|Claudia Eller | Times Staff Writer

Nearing the end of his third year as chairman of Paramount Pictures, Brad Grey has again realigned his top management team in hopes that the studio can produce more homegrown hits as it braces for a future without its key movie supplier, DreamWorks.

Tapping an executive with strong roots in the independent film world, Grey named John Lesher to the newly created position of president of Paramount Film Group, overseeing development of all movies at Paramount and its labels: Paramount Vantage, MTV Films and Nickelodeon Movies. Lesher has headed Paramount Vantage, known for such specialty films as "Into The Wild" and "Babel," since 2005.

Brad Weston, who had been Grey's top creative executive, continues as president of production but will now report to Lesher. Scott Aversano, who had been president of the MTV and Nickelodeon film labels, becomes a producer at the studio. Rob Moore, president of worldwide marketing, distribution and home entertainment, was named vice chairman of Paramount Pictures; his responsibilities remain unchanged.

"This is my senior team for the future," Grey said. "Everybody's earned these promotions."

The shake-up is the latest in a succession of management shifts Grey has made since the former talent agent took over the studio reins in March 2005 from Sherry Lansing. Grey previously replaced several top executives, including his first hire, former President Gail Berman, production chief Donald De Line and distribution President Wayne Lewellen.

Although Grey declined to comment on the widely expected split with DreamWorks this year, he was clearly trying to position Paramount for that inevitability. DreamWorks, which in 2007 helped catapult Paramount into first place in market share and produced most of the studio's biggest hits including "Transformers" (co-financed by Paramount), "Blades of Glory" and "Norbit," supplies the studio with six to eight movies a year.

It's no secret that Paramount's marriage with DreamWorks has been tortured almost from the instant founders Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg sold the studio to Paramount parent Viacom Inc. in 2005. The founders and DreamWorks chief Stacey Snider, all of whom have chafed under Paramount's ownership, are expected to leave the Paramount fold this year and take the DreamWorks logo with them, most likely to Spielberg's longtime home at Universal Pictures, where the director still maintains offices.

The resulting void at Paramount will put pressure on Lesher and his team to increase the number of movies they make annually. Lesher, a former talent agent, was hired to reinvigorate Paramount Vantage by building on his relationships in the independent film business. But he has little experience putting together big-budget mainstream movies, which is the studio's priority.

Grey said he was confident Lesher could deliver the larger-scale pictures, citing his role as Martin Scorsese's former agent in helping to assemble last year's Oscar-winning "The Departed" for Warner Bros.

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claudia.eller@latimes.com

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