Horberg exits Sidney Kimmel

Bingham Ray takes up top creative post

NEW YORK -- Five months after announcing that it was scaling back, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment has made the exec moves to match.

The financing and producing entity has removed president of production Bill Horberg from his post and promoted senior marketing and distribution exec Bingham Ray to president of creative affairs, now SKE's top creative spot. Horberg has been given a first-look producing deal with the company.

The personnel moves come as part of what execs described as a shift in strategy toward thrillers, horror and broad comedy and away from the more prestige fare it has been known for since Horberg joined three years ago.

On Tuesday, the company announced its first film in that vein, the thriller "Sunflower" from writer Misha Green.

"This is a commercial enterprise, and we need to be making broader movies." SKE president Jim Tauber said. "As much as we like these art house and smart house movies, we can only make one or two of them. We can't afford to make a slate of them."

The company has made a number of critically well-received films during the past several years, including "United 93" and "Lars and the Real Girl," but few have broken out commercially. "United 93" was the biggest earner of the past few years, taking in $32 million in domestic boxoffice.

Meanwhile, Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut "Synecdoche, New York," a $20 million project that had been one of the big hopes of this year's Festival de Cannes, attracted few bidders on the Croisette and wound up selling to Sony Pictures Classics several months after the festival.

SKE announced in March that it would cut back the number of films per year from roughly five to three and would seek different financial terms; it also would no longer market its own movies.

Among the movies upcoming for SKE are the Jennifer Aniston drama "Management," which will play the Toronto Film Festival, and Greg Mottola's coming-of-age dramedy "Adventureland," set for release by Miramax.

The company Tuesday also announced the promotions of Jodi Hildebrand to vp production and Dan Cohen to creative executive.

Tauber described the staff changes as part of the company's desire to hit financial targets. Although Ray is known primarily as a marketing guru, he is taking on a role that encompasses creative oversight because the two needed to be bridged, Tauber said.

"We don't want to make a movie unless we know clearly who the audience is, and we think Bingham gives us the marketing perspective," he said.

Industryites said that Ray, a longtime veteran of the indie world, was a good choice despite a lack of production experience.

"Bill and Bingham are both very smart at what they do," said an exec at a studio that has worked with SKE. "The difference is that Bingham can read a script and have a much better sense of whether it will connect with an audience. And if you look at Kimmel recently, that's been the problem with their movies: the audience."

Ray served as president of UA and helped found Focus Features antecedent October Films, which was responsible for a host of indie hits in the '90s including "The Apostle" and "Secrets & Lies."

Horberg, a veteran of Sydney Pollack's and Anthony Minghella's Mirage Enterprises, is a producer with a long history of successful studio and indie pictures, including "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and "Sliding Doors." SKE said with the producing deal, Horberg will now be able to work on bigger-budget films that don't fit the SKE model.

Tauber said he saw these changes as reflective of a specialty business in flux.

"We're facing the same challenge that every independent and every independent distributor is facing," he said. "So we're being reactive to that, casting a wider net, trying to be more diverse in what were doing."