May 19, 2006

Paramount unveils new specialty film unit

CANNES, France (Reuters) - Film studio Paramount Pictures
on Friday unveiled a new division called Paramount Vantage
aimed at releasing low-budget films with broad appeal to
capture audiences in the expanding independent film arena.

The unit's formation is the first major move for John
Lesher, who recently took the reins at Paramount's specialty
film unit, Paramount Classics. It also comes as studio chairman
Brad Gray continues to revamp Paramount Pictures.

Paramount Vantage aims to release eight to 10 films a year,
ranging from low-budget comedies and horror films to
sophisticated art house fare such as "Babel," starring Brad
Pitt, which premieres this week at the Cannes film festival.

"Investing in a specialty division so that we can become
competitive in this area has been a part of Brad Grey's overall
vision for turning around the studio," Lesher said in a

The low-budget, or "specialty" divisions of major studios
have become increasingly important in recent years because the
movies they produce and release are made for relatively small
amounts of money, but can reap huge profits if successful.

Last year's award-winning gay romance "Brokeback Mountain,"
for instance, was produced for about $14 million by Universal
Pictures' Focus Features specialty unit and took in $178
million at box offices worldwide.

When Gray took the reins of Paramount Pictures in 2005, one
of his main goals was revamping and expanding the studio's
specialty unit, Paramount Classics. Gray hired Lesher to come
in and remake the division.

As part of Friday's announcement, the company said
Paramount Classics would continue to exist, but now focus on
films with a more narrow appeal such as foreign-language movies
and documentaries like the upcoming global warming film "An
Inconvenient Truth," which also is screening at Cannes.

Both Paramount Classics and Paramount Vantage will be
overseen by Lesher.

Other films to be released by the new Paramount Vantage
label in 2007 include Joel and Ethan Coen's "No Country for Old
Men," and Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood."

Paramount Pictures and the two specialty divisions are part
of the entertainment operations of Viacom Inc..