Universal Adds Division for Specialty Films

Universal Pictures is starting a division to handle specialty films, an increasingly lucrative business for studios that have found they can make sizable profits from independent movies, the Seagram Co. unit said Monday.

The company named former Gramercy Pictures executive Claudia Gray and Paul Hardart, a strategic-planning executive with Universal, to run the unit. Gray was named executive vice president, Hardart senior vice president. Overseeing the unit will be Stacey Snider and Brian Mulligan, co-chairmen of Universal Pictures.

Universal already has deals to distribute a number of specialty films each year through such producers as Working Title and is also expected to acquire films. Gray will oversee marketing and publicity for those films, with Hardart in charge of business and finance.

The projects are expected to be distributed domestically by USA Films, a specialty film company in which Universal is a partner that was formed when mogul Barry Diller combined Gramercy with October Films.