UPDATED, 11:15 AM: The mini studio making big moves today confirmed that former Fox and Disney exec Oren Aviv will serve as President and Chief Content Officer, which we told you about first last month. Aviv will oversee motion picture development, production, and marketing at the new film and TV studio, reporting directly to STX head Robert Simonds.
Aviv and Simonds are prepping to produce and distribute up to 10 star-driven films per year in the $20 million to $60 million budget range. The two first worked together on the Adam Sandler comedy The Waterboy, which Simonds produced and Aviv marketed while at Disney. That’s also the kind of star-centered genre project STX is focusing on. The duo cite more recent midbudgeted hits The Proposal, The Other Woman, Neighbors, Ride Along, Contraband, Safe House, and 22 Jump Street as examples of the kinds of projects they’re strategically engineering.
“These are not passion projects, they’re not off-genre, they’re not idiosyncratic small movies. If you work with us, these movies are designed to be the biggest hit of your career,” Simonds told Deadline. “That’s the infrastructure that we’ve built. There’s a feeling out there that movie star is thing of the past but we disagree. The majors are making fewer movies and channeling money toward franchise films. There’s a vacuum that’s been created in middle and we’re trying to fill that vacuum.”
STX’s first 6-7 film slate will be announced in the coming weeks, Aviv and Simonds told Deadline. Their Katherine Heigl-fronted NBC drama State of Affairs debuts this November as the first project from STX’s TV division, which is set up like the infrastructure of their film operation. “Normally you start with a writer, director, then the star of the movie. We start with the star, the concept, the writer, and reverse engineer it. It’s obvious – it’s just not the way Hollywood likes to do it,” said Simonds.
PREVIOUS EXCLUSIVE, AUGUST 7: Oren Aviv, the former marketing president of 20th Century Fox and before that the Walt Disney Co., is expected to join STX Entertainment, the mini-studio created in March by Robert Simonds, TPG Growth, Gigi Pritzker and Hony Capital to produce, market and distribute 8 to 10 mid-range, star-driven productions. The company is currently ramping up is executive ranks. Aviv is still under contract at Fox who is said to be working with him to allow him to land employment elsewhere.
The move would take Aviv out of the game of players that could go to Sony. With Josh Greenstein heavily into negotiations with Paramount to re-up as marketing chief on the Melrose lot, that leaves former Fox marketing exec Tony Sella and former Uni exec Adam Fogelson still in play. Both great marketing executives and Fogelson, of course, has a production experience as well.
Aviv, who is finishing up the details of his exit from the Fox contract, is talking about a job that would straddle both marketing and production at STX. He previously served as the president of production at Disney prior to joining Fox, but he has long been a creative marketing guy. Aviv served at Fox as chief marketing officer and president of theatrical marketing (with Sella) for about two years. Prior to that, he was president of marketing at the Walt Disney Co. for about four years before Rich Ross came in. He oversaw some great campaigns at both studios, including The Life of Pi (which won four Oscars), Rio, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Incredibles, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, Witch and The Wardrobe, and Pirates of the Caribbean. He has won numerous awards and was named Marketer of the Year by Advertising Age (my old stomping ground).
He should join the studio next month. Simonds is chairman and CEO of the new studio with an impressive management team that includes COO Thomas McGrath (who is the former COO of Viacom Entertainment) and board members that include TPG founding partner David Bonderman as well as Frank Biondi, a former president and CEO of Viacom Inc. and a former chairman and CEO of Universal Studios (and also Simonds’ father-in-law).
The new studio made distribution deals directly with exhibitors Regal, Cinemark, Carmike and AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. (by the way, it’s controlled by Wang Jianlin, a billionaire who is known as the second richest man in the country.
Deadline’s Jen Yamato contributed to this report.