Smokehouse defecting to Sony

George Clooney leaves Warners after almost a decade

George Clooney and his Smokehouse production shingle is decamping from Warners Bros. and setting up shop at Sony.

The shingle, which Clooney runs with Grant Heslov, is in final negotiations for a two-year first-look deal to develop and produce movie projects.

The move is a major one for Clooney, who has called Warners his home for almost a decade, first under the banner of Section Eight, the company started by him and Steven Soderbergh, then more recently with Grant Heslov under Smokehouse. Smokehouse signed its three year first-look deal in July 2006.

It was under Section Eight that Clooney made a name for himself as a producer, with not only the money -- making productions such as the "Ocean's" movies -- but with award-attracting fare such as "Michael Clayton," "Good Night, and Good Luck," "Syriana" and "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind."

Clooney, however, was less prolific under Smokehouse. Despite several high-profile projects in development, including adaptations of the stage play "Farragut North" and the John Grisham novel "The Innocent Man," the company made no movies for Warners.

Smokehouse's initial movie was the romantic comedy "Leatherheads," which was a Universal release that made only $31.3 million. The only other project is the upcoming "The Men Who Stare at Goats," directed by Heslov. Overture is releasing the film this fall.

(Clooney is a producer on "The Informant," which Warners opens in September, but that movie was set up during the Section Eight years.)

Warners made overtures to have Clooney stay with the studio, for which he starred in some of the 1990s "Batman" movies and starred in "ER" on the television side, though Sony made a more aggressive deal.

The Sony deal is eyebrow-raising as the Culver City-based company recently pulled the plug on "Moneyball," a baseball drama to be directed by Soderbergh, for creative and financial reasons. The picture Soderbergh was aiming to do fell more in line with the Section Eight mold though with a far higher budget.

It is unclear if under the new deal Clooney will continue to make his thought-provoking fare or more tentpole-oriented pictures.

Smokehouse senior vp development Nina Wolarsky and creative executive Alex Meenehan are following Clooney and Heslov to their new home.

Commented Clooney in a statement: "Warner Bros. has been a great place to work and I've felt like part of a family for almost 20 years. So in moving on, I'm leaving a terrific company and a lot of dear friends. They're a class act. In looking ahead, I'm tremendously excited to be working at Sony Pictures, and we all feel like it's a perfect match for Smokehouse. Grant Heslov and I hope to deliver the kind of films that will make them proud."
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