Searchlight Veteran Nancy Utley Launches Lake Ellyn; Lands First-Look Deal With Chernin Entertainment

Peter Chernin Nancy Utley
Peter Chernin, Nancy Utley Michael Buckner; AP

Six months after departing from Searchlight Pictures, that studio’s former co-chairman Nancy Utley is opening the doors to a new production company, Lake Ellyn Entertainment, that will produce film and TV content in a first-look deal with Chernin Entertainment.

Chernin Entertainment has had a first-look deal with Netflix since April 2020, one of its big releases being the Fear Street trilogy this summer. Chernin’s pact with Netflix will now extend to Utley projects as well.

Jenno Topping, Chernin Entertainment’s President of Film and Television, made the announcement Wednesday.

“Nancy is the ultimate executive—smart, savvy, experienced, and kind. She built Searchlight Pictures into one of the jewels of the film business; a company with an unparalleled record of achievement and a reputation for nurturing the finest filmmakers. I’m delighted to have her join Jenno and me and the rest of our team,” Chernin Entertainment chairman and CEO Peter Chernin said.

Said Utley: “After decades as a studio executive, I’m excited to get closer to the making of film and television as a producer. My focus will continue to be on writer and director-driven projects with distinctive authorial voices. I’m thrilled to reunite with Peter after our work at Fox, delighted to partner with Jenno, whom I’ve known and admired for many years, and grateful for the support of Netflix as I begin this new venture.”

Utley has served as the chairman of Searchlight Pictures since 2018, having previously served in senior leadership at the studio since 1999. The fruits of her labor were seen this past weekend with Searchlight’s release of Wes Anderson’s long-awaited The French Dispatch, which gave art houses a rebound with a $1.3 million opening at 52 theaters in 14 markets. During her time at Searchlight, she jointly managed all aspects of the company including production, acquisitions, marketing and distribution with fellow chairman Stephen Gilula.

During Utley’s tenure, the studio churned out movies counting 122 Golden Globe and 159 Oscar nominations including Best Picture winners Nomadland, The Shape of Water, 12 Years a Slave, Birdman and Slumdog Millionaire. Gilula also departed with Utley back in April, with Matthew Greenfield and David Greenbaum being upped to Searchlight co-presidents.

Other features during Utley’s run at Searchlight included Oscar nominees Jojo Rabbit, The Favourite, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; The Grand Budapest Hotel, Boys Don’t Cry, Black Swan, Sideways, the Cannes Palme d’Or winner The Tree of Life among many others. Utley also oversaw Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming Searchlight title Nightmare Alley. 

Chernin Entertainment’s upcoming film projects include Netflix’s Slumberland starring Jason Momoa and Kyle Chandler and Netflix’s Luther starring Cynthia Erivo, Andy Serkis and Idris Elba. Upcoming series include the third season of See on Apple TV+. The company recently produced the second season of Truth Be Told on Apple TV+ as well as the series Bombay Begums on Netflix.

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