Colin Callender leaving HBO

Former HBO Films president was with company 20 years

Colin Callender's departure from HBO Films marks the end of an era not just for HBO but for the film world at large.

The exec announced Tuesday that he was leaving the pay cable's film division after 20 years to launch a production company. Callender's deputies Len Amato and Kary Antholis have been upped to presidents to run HBO Miniseries and HBO Films, respectively, splitting what was a position of rare influence under Callender.

In Callender's hands, the HBO Films presidency was a role with an enormous amount of creative and commercial freedom. In the past decade, he greenlighted and was directly involved with dozens of projects whose subjects and settings ranged from Elizabethan England to AIDS in 1980s America to contemporary immigrant dramas. While the banner carried the word "films" in its title, it came to include a broad range of movies and miniseries in the context of both television and until recently theatrical releases.

"Colin has been a huge part of this company for a long time," HBO co-president Richard Plepler said. "We hope to be collaborating with him in the near future."

Insiders have long noted that Callender represented a kind of throwback model in which he was able to implement his vision and prestige projects with comparatively little corporate interference. Callender is beloved in the creative community, with filmmakers and producers lauding him for providing both support and a voice at the corporate table, though he also had critics who sometimes bristled at his relentlessness.

HBO's West Coast head Michael Lombardo stressed that the departure of Callender does not signal a scaleback in the longform area for HBO, which remains the dominant force in the field after the broadcast networks and Showtime practically left the genre.

"Don't read into this that there's any change in our investment in longforms," he said. "It's a vital part of HBO."

Coming up in the area is HBO's big-budget World War II miniseries "The Pacific," slated for late next year or early 2010.

Even before Callender announced his departure, his freedom had faced a de facto curtailment, in part because of HBO Films' theatrical label Picturehouse, which was shuttered earlier this year. While Callender in interviews had extolled the possibility of taking shots at the boxoffice, where the opportunities for revenue was more direct, the network wanted out of the pricey P&A game. The division's Maud Nadler and Julie Goldstein had been in talks this year to sever their ties with the company.

More immediately for HBO, Callender's exit means that one of the last execs who was part of HBO's ascendancy during the past decade is gone. HBO topper Chris Albrecht left the network last year in the wake of an incident outside a Las Vegas hotel, and HBO Entertainment president Carolyn Strauss departed the pay cable net this year. (The company's doc division chief, Sheila Nevins, remains in her post, with the unit continuing to churn out nonfiction films.)

Callender's departure is not a surprise. There was talk about his future when he was not tapped to replace Albrecht last year and more buzz this summer that he was preliminarily talking to film banners.

Under Callender's stewardship, HBO Films won a host of plaudits, racking up 84 Emmys and 26 Golden Globes and making his tenure a modern success story in the category of prestige programming.

The question of a commercial track record is trickier; it's hard to measure the financial performance of a division such as Callender's because as HBO has long argued, even less-viewed shows help drive subscriptions and the brand.

In a category where performance can be more directly evaluated -- theatrical -- the record was notably mixed. Movies including "American Splendor" and "Maria Full of Grace" were bona fide crossovers, but such titles as "The Notorious Bettie Page" and "Elephant" fizzled with filmgoers.

"There has been one constant that has ruled my career, adn that's change," said Callender, who will continue to be based in Los Angeles. "Now the marriage of traditional and digital media is changing the marketplace, and that's where there are enormous opportunities."

Callender will continue at HBO for another month or so to help with the transition. He plans to unveil his new venture in early 2009.

The entrepreneurial move closes a creative circle for Callender. The exec began his career at HBO in 1987 after a run as head of his own company, where he made a name producing prestige fare like a television adaptation of the Dickens classic "Nicholas Nickleby."