Columbia Reportedly Seeks Puttnam for Post

Times Staff Writer

British-based producer David Puttnam, who made the Oscar-winning “Chariots of Fire” and “The Killing Fields,” has apparently been offered the top creative post at Columbia Pictures Industries, industry sources said Tuesday.

“I think the rumor’s got a whole lot of credence,” one Columbia insider said. However, Robert Dingilian, senior vice president of marketing, said the studio would not comment officially.

Puttnam, who has openly criticized the studio system in the past, is reportedly in Los Angeles (he could not be reached for comment Tuesday), as is Columbia Pictures Industries President Richard Gallop.

The 45-year-old Puttnam is considered an unusual choice for Columbia because he has always been considered something of a renegade who doesn’t fit the corporate mold, sources said. “I’d be shocked if he took it,” one former Columbia executive said. “There are so many layers of management at that company.”


Puttnam’s attorney, Marvin Meyer, refused to comment on the rumor.

Since April, when Guy McElwaine resigned as chairman and chief executive after a string of box-office misfires, Columbia--which is owned by Coca-Cola--has been searching for someone to fill the post. In the interim, Steve Sohmer, a former executive vice president at NBC hired on as president and chief operating officer, has held the top position.

According to insiders at Columbia and a number of other studios, Brandon Tartikoff, president of NBC’s entertainment division, was also offered the job but turned it down and renewed his contract with the network.

Puttnam, who lives in London and has made the majority of his films there, has commented openly on his disdain on the way Hollywood works. “This is very much a fear-based community, and I can’t believe that encourages real creativity,” Puttnam told The Times in a 1984 interview. “That’s why the creative work here is really not good enough.”


Warner Declines Comment

Puttnam’s contractual obligations could prevent him from taking the position even if he were interested, sources said. For the last eight years, Puttnam has been under contract to Warner Bros. as an independent producer. Warner Bros. Production President Mark Canton declined to comment on the reported Columbia offer.

“We don’t know anything,” Canton said. “All we know is he produces movies for Warner Bros., and we love him.”

Within the creative community, reaction to the possibility of Puttnam taking the job was positive.


“Columbia would be very lucky to have him,” one former Columbia production executive said. “He’s always been a maverick operating outside the system, but I think it would make for an interesting mix.”

“It could be a signal that we’re in for a wave of intelligent movie making,” producer David Permut said. “He’s the most respected producer in the business.”