THR's Women in Entertainment 2011: Power 100
Fox Searchlight continues to be one of the most envied specialty shops around, and Utley has more than proved her ability to carry on the legacy of Peter Rice and, before him, Tom Rothman (Utley runs the unit with fellow Searchlight president Steve Gilula). The latest case in point is Alexander Payne's The Descendants, an in-house production that quickly transformed into a crowd-pleaser when it opened in select theaters Nov. 16.
Originally, Utley, 56, wanted to be a reporter and enrolled in the journalism program at Northwestern. "I quickly realized that I didn't have the aggressiveness needed to be a good reporter because I'm a people-pleaser," Utley recalls. She discovered her calling when taking an advertising class and ended up on Madison Avenue, where she spent eight years at Grey Advertising (now Grey Global Group). She then segued into the film marketing business and spent more than a decade at Fox before arriving at Searchlight, where she ran marketing before being promoted to president.
If there's a secret to her success, Utley credits her Midwest upbringing (she's a Chicago native). "I think I have a different sensibility about what will work in other parts of the country," she explains. She's also got a large brood, between her three children and two stepchildren. "I'm in touch with a lot of different age ranges, since they vary in age from 15 to 30."
In terms of 2011 titles, she's most proud of Descendants, The Tree of Life and Shame, which launches in select theaters Dec. 2. Utley and Gilula surprised the indie world by picking up rights to Steve McQueen's Shame, since it's an NC-17 release. She says: "It's very exciting to try and get recognition for this film."
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