WAGNER'S EXIT ROCKS UA

In an announcement that stunned Hollywood, Paula Wagner, Tom Cruise's business partner, said Wednesday that she is stepping down as CEO of United Artists in order "to return to my true love, which is making movies." Wagner and Cruise had been recruited by MGM chief Harry Sloan in 2006 to revive UA and given a 30-percent ownership of the studio, but the studio's projects have been minimal. It has released only one movie, Lions for Lambs, starring Cruise, which flopped. (Another film, Valkyrie, also starring Cruise is due to be released on December 26.) In a statement, MGM said that their ownership interest would not be affected by Wagner's decision and that it hoped Wagner and Cruise would continue to work together on future UA film productions. Reporting on Wagner's departure, the Los Angeles Times commented today (Thursday) that it represented "a black eye for Sloan, whose plan for UA is unraveling at a time when he is attempting to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in sorely needed film financing for debt-ridden MGM."

STARS SUPPORT SAG DISSIDENTS

Although they themselves presumably don't have enough time to run for a place on the Screen Actors Guild's national board, a group of prominent actors on Wednesday endorsed a dissident group of not-so-well-known actors who do. The group signed a message to SAG's membership from Sally Field saying that the actions of the union's current leadership had "destroyed" her faith in its ability "to effectively represent our interests as performers." She particularly condemned the leadership's inability to form a united front with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists against the producers. "If this leadership stays in place, the bad relations with AFTRA will persist, and we'll continue to negotiate contracts from a position of division and weakness," she said. Among 49 other actors supporting Field in calling for support of the candidate slate called Unite for Strength were such stars as Alec Baldwin, Ed Begley, Jr., Lewis Black, Peter Coyote, Marcia Cross, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Tom Hanks, Patricia Heaton, Felicity Huffman, Anthony LaPaglia, Rob Lowe, William H. Macy, Ron Perlman, Freddie Prinze, Jr., Tony Shalhoub, Elizabeth Shue, Gary Sinise, Eric Stoltz, John Turturro, Nia Vardalos, and Steven Weber. Previously Unite for Strength had been criticized for its inability to persuade well-known actors to challenge the leadership slate known as Membership First in September's board election.

MOVIES OFFERED ONLINE FOR 99 CENTS

In another sign that the online video business is struggling to remain viable, the rental service Vudu announced Wednesday that it is temporarily slashing the price of many of its popular movies to 99 cents, half its regular price. During a promotional period, Vudu said it will introduce 25 new titles each week. The announcement comes just one day after two competitors, Vongo and ClickStar, announced that they were shutting down. Vudu, however, gave no hint that it had cut prices out of desperation. In a statement, Vudu marketing chief Patrick Cosson called the company's decision "groundbreaking," and added, "In this age of $4 a gallon gas and 'staycations,' we felt that Vudu viewers deserved a break and should be able to watch great films for just 99 cents." However, a settop box costing $295 is required to watch those films. NetFlix's similar video streaming service requires a box, the Roku NetFlix Player, costing $99. A NetFlix subscription is also required.

GANIS REELECTED HEAD OF MOVIE ACADEMY

Producer Sid Ganis has been elected president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for a fourth consecutive year. In a statement, Ganis, who will continue to head the group that presents the annual Oscar awards, said that he regarded his job as "a privilege," adding, "It's a dynamic time for our organization and our art form. I'm incredibly proud to be a part of it."

Brian B.