Following a strong year that culminated in a Best Picture Oscar win for The Shape of Water, Fox Searchlight heads Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley have each been upped to the role of chairman of the specialty unit.
The promotions are accompanied by multi-year extensions of the pair’s contracts, according to an announcement by Twentieth Century Fox Film Chairman and CEO Stacey Snider, to whom they will continue to report.
In their new roles, the pair will not only continue to oversee Searchlight’s specialty film business, but also will lead a newly created TV division. In revealing the push into TV this spring, the company said production duties for Searchlight TV will be directly overseen by Searchlight’s recently promoted film and TV production chiefs Matthew Greenfield and David Greenbaum.
The news is landing ahead of Friday’s shareholder votes that will all but sew up Disney’s pending $71.3 billion acquisition of most of 21st Century Fox, including Searchlight. The management puzzle is still being worked out across the entire new corporate org chart, particularly on the film side. Searchlight in some ways presents an integration challenge for Disney, given the adult, R-rated skew of many of its titles and the hand-crafted platform releases it deploys, the opposite of the full-tilt blasts favored by Disney. But if it’s a problem, it’s a high-class one to have, and the unit’s stellar track record and bravura showing at the Oscars in March position it well for the changes to come. At Disney’s annual shareholder meeting in March, CEO Bob Iger cast a strong vote of confidence, saying he had been “rooting” for Searchlight on Oscar night and had no plans to “change what they do.”
Gilula and Utley have collaborated for more than 18 years and have been presidents of Searchlight since 2009. Beginning with Boys Don’t Cry, which was released in 1999, their teamings have yielded a stream of commercial and critical successes, reaping 36 Oscars from 132 total nominations, including 15 for Best Picture.
Under Utley and Gilula, Searchlight has won four of the past 10 Oscars for Best Picture, a feat achieved by no other studio in more than 25 years. The total worldwide box office haul during their tenure has exceeded $5 billion. Last year, both Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri cracked the $100 million worldwide mark, hardly the expected path for a sea-creature fable and a mordant drama about the fight for justice Middle America.
“We are honored to continue the work of Searchlight, in collaboration with our brilliant filmmakers, aided by our extremely talented, hard-working and passionate staff, and with the deeply-appreciated support of Stacey and all our Fox colleagues,” Utley and Gilula said in a joint statement.
“The collaborative and innovative partnership that Nancy and Steve have created over the years is quite simply the gold standard in all of Hollywood,” Snider said, praising the duo for “cementing Searchlight as a worldwide brand.”
Prior to his days at Searchlight, Gilula weas president and CEO of Landmark Theatres, which he co-founded in 1974 and grew from its origins as a single theater, West LA’s famed NuArt.
Utley worked elsewhere in Fox’s film studio before arriving at Searchlight, specializing in marketing. She developed campaigns for a string of hits including Independence Day, Mrs. Doubtfire and There’s Something About Mary.