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Former Miramax chief Daniel Battsek headed for National Geographic Films

January 5, 2010 |  5:20 pm

Daniel Battsek, who in late October was ousted as president of Disney's specialty movie label Miramax Films, is in advanced talks to become head of boutique production house National Geographic Films. He would succeed Adam Leipzig, who will leave the company when his contract expires in mid-March to become an independent producer.

Battsek A spokesman for National Geographic Films -- best known for the 2005 Oscar-winning documentary "March of the Penguins"-- declined to comment about Battsek. The former Miramax chief, who is based in New York, ducked a call and e-mail seeking confirmation. Two people said Battsek's deal was still being finalized and was expected to close shortly. The news of his negotiations was first reported today by Deadline Hollywood.

Though Leipzig works at the film company's Beverly Hills headquarters, Battsek is expected to remain in New York and, like his predecessor, report to National Geographic Entertainment President David Beal. In a statement, Beal confirmed that Leipzig would be leaving his position as president of the film company and would serve as executive producer of two of its current projects, director Peter Weir's "The Way Back," which is still without a U.S. distributor, and the HBO miniseries "Undaunted Courage," based on Stephen Ambrose's book that retells the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Since its inception in 2000, National Geographic Films' only breakout hit to date has been "March of The Penguins," which the company and the now-defunct Warner Independent Pictures jointly acquired and which went on to gross $77.4 million domestically. Other releases, including the documentaries "Arctic Tale" and "God Grew Tired of Us," were box-office disappointments.

Battsek, who was hired to run Miramax four years ago after the departure of its founders, Bob and Harvey Weinstein, had some success with such prestige pictures as "The Queen," "Doubt" and "No Country for Old Men." But a number of his other movie picks, among them "The Boys Are Back," "Extract" and "Cheri," failed to catch on with audiences.

This past fall, Disney gutted much of the art-house company by slashing 70% of the staff to 20, cutting the number of movie releases to three a year and folding marketing and distribution into its bigger studio operations. Disney's new movie chairman, Rich Ross, who succeeded veteran Dick Cook, let Battsek go and is yet to name a replacement. Disney plans to shut down Miramax's New York headquarters and its Los Angeles office and maintain a small staff on its Burbank lot.

The British-born Battsek was an 18-year Disney veteran, having earlier worked as a top executive in the studio's international operation in London.

-- Claudia Eller