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CANNES ’99 BIZ: Catching up on the Croisette with Sony Pictures Classics

CANNES '99 BIZ: Catching up on the Croisette with Sony Pictures Classics

CANNES ’99 BIZ: Catching up on the Croisette with Sony Pictures Classics

by Anthony Kaufman

Just minutes before sitting down for lunch with Pedro Almodovar and his
lovely cast of Spanish actresses, Sony Pictures Classics Co-Presidents Michael
and Tom Bernard sat down with indieWIRE for an overview of their
thoughts on this year’s Cannes and their impressive list of entries in
the Official Selection: the three competitions pics, “All About My Mother,”
Chen Kaige‘s “The Emperor and the Assassin,” and Takeshi Kitano‘s
“Kikujiro” along with David Mamet‘s Un Certain Regard film “The Winslow
.” “One of the myths of Sony Classics, which we’ve been
trying to correct, is that we don’t do production and we don’t read
scripts,” said Bernard, explaining that they produced “Winslow Boy,”
co-produced “Assassin,” and bought the Kitano and Almodovar films based on
screenplays alone. “What’s happened is there’s not a big market here
in Cannes, it’s become a library,” Bernard said. “Instead of going to a
movie for two hours, I go to a room for an hour and read a script.”

“In years past, all of these movies that are the hot movies now and are
owned by somebody, they would have been the bidding war of the century,” he
also said. “People just didn’t buy in script stage and they weren’t
producing these kind of films — they had the luxury of waiting. But
that’s just not the case anymore. You’re looking for movies under rocks
right now.” Bernard explained that the reason may be because of “companies
like Miramax which have traditionally overpaid for years on product to
drive up the bidding war for the headlines.” He continued, “People just
can’t afford to be in that race anymore. So they’re being more selective.”

Alluding to the fact that their slate is filled with international
pictures, Barker said, “We’re in a really good moment for foreign films
right now.” Citing the success of their Cannes ’98 acquisition, “The Dream
Life of Angels,”
Barker continued, “The fact of the matter is that a
low-key, tragic and dark story with immense talent could do this kind of
business, I think it has caused us to look a little more closely at some of
these pictures looking for the next ‘The Dream Life of Angels,’ because
there is an audience desire for this kind of film in America right now.”

Commenting on the whole new group of acquisitions people and
mini-distributors scouting Cannes for product, Barker said, “It’s very
important. So many films are not getting released that are of incredibly
high quality. And the reason they’re not getting released… is that so many
of these specialized companies are spending all their time trying to make
the next ‘Pulp Fiction’ or the next commercial independent film. It’s
really the films that are more challenging like ‘Dream Life of Angels’;
they deserve distribution and there’s a way to make money with those films.
These upper tier companies, they view that profit as too minimal to deal
with. These third tier companies, they’re valuable, because they get to
the public, films which should be gotten to the public. They know how to
do this kind of film properly.” Barker mentioned Strand Releasing as a
good example of a small distributor that knows how to find an audience for
their films. “I see all their movies,” he joked.

While Barker and Bernard lounged at lunch, Sony Classics VP of Acquisitions
Dylan Leiner was nowhere to be seen. That’s probably because he was
beating his feet on the Croisette, trying desperately to digest as much
celluloid as he can. While passing through the American Pavilion later
that day, Leiner stopped for a moment over an over-priced sandwich to talk
about the beat. “The biggest problems,” he said, “are getting tickets and
if you get a ticket, getting a seat.” Leiner was quick to mention
Miramax’s additional staff members, whose sole job is getting tickets for
their entire acquisitions posse. Not the case at Sony Classics; Leiner was
still frustrated about getting turned away at the morning’s Jarmusch

Asked about the difficulties of seeing films in the market atmosphere,
Leiner painted a very grim picture, calling it “incredibly exhausting” and
“very difficult” to judge a movie. “It takes a lot of concentration,” Leiner
said. “There are competitors all around you, you’re sleep deprived, you have 25
unreturned phone calls, and you only see one third of the movies because
you have to go out to a lunch for a film you’ve already acquired to support
that film.”

Commenting on the acquisition landscape at Cannes this year, where small
films in the market suddenly find themselves snapped up by distribs, Leiner
noted that even a “small blip on the radar will cause a stir, because
there’s nothing else to talk about.”

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