Paramount Pictures chairman and CEO Brad Grey officially named John Lesher as president of the studio's specialty film label currently known as Paramount Classics, replacing the company's co-chiefs Ruth Vitale and David Dinerstein, who announced their departure early last month. Lesher joins Paramount from the Endeavor Agency, where he has been a partner since 2001 and will be responsible for film development, production, and acquisitions at the label, which will maintain its own marketing and distribution departments, according to the announcement. Lesher will report directly to Grey and will also work closely with Rob Moore, Paramount's president of worldwide marketing, distribution and operations, as well as Paramount Pictures president Gail Berman.
In a conversation with indieWIRE Wednesday evening, Lesher indicated that much of how the division will proceed will remain in flux in the short term, including the specialty label's name - although he said it will probably change. Lesher will officially take over the reins at the company in "the next couple of weeks" so that he can complete his obligations at Endeavor. An insider told indieWIRE late Wednesday that the change of management should officially take place before Thanksgiving. While further personnel changes at Paramount Classics have not been announced, Lesher indicated a "go-slow" approach to how its staff might evolve.
"I have a lot of ideas, but what I want to do first is meet all the people [on staff], and after that, go from there. It is an opportunity to start something fresh and do it in a model where we think the business exists and will go in the future." Lesher left open how the division will evolve with regard to its future releases saying, "We want to find movies we love, and how many we acquire and make will ultimately reveal itself." However, Lesher said the company will most likely release 10 to 12 titles per year with a mixture of productions and acquisitions. Lesher will also continue to seek out projects that will work in conjunction with Paramount parent Viacom's other companies including MTV. Last year, Vitale and Dinerstein picked up Craig Brewer's "Hustle & Flow" at Sundance, which Paramount released together with its sibling, MTV Films.
"We want to work with the best filmmakers from all over the world, [and release] movies of all genres that will work at the box office," Lesher said. "We also will work with other Viacom labels such as MTV, but we will stick to a smaller budget model and want to make movies [inexpensively]."
Asked why he wanted to leave the agency side of the film biz, Lesher said that he viewed the move to Paramount's specialty division as an obvious one. "It seemed like a natural progression to be honest. [I've been] known for representing filmmakers, and I see this job as a further continuation of that, and I am excited by the opportunity Brad [Grey] has given me."
While at Endeavor, Lesher worked with established directors such as Martin Scorsese as well as Paul Thomas Anderson ("Magnolia"), Jon Glazer ("Sexy Beast"), Alejandro Innaritu ("Babel"), Adam McKay ("Land of the Lost"), Fernando Meirelles ("The Constant Gardener"), Bennett Miller ("Capote"), David O. Russell ("Three Kings"), and Walter Salles ("The Motorcycle Diaries"), among others. Prior to joining Endeavor, Lesher was at the United Talent Agency (UTA) for fifteen years, serving as partner for five of those years.