Michael Barker and Tom Bernard
Partners for 30 years, the Sony Pictures Classics duo again made a mark on Sundance.
Rare is the Hollywood couple that stays together 30 years. Tom Bernard and Michael Barker first paired at United Artists and Orion Classics before co-founding Sony Pictures Classics in 1992. The New York-based specialty arm has never been Sony’s most profitable division, but with scores of Oscar nominations (seven more this year for such films as Animal Kingdom and Inside Job), the duo’s indie outfit has long championed obscure artists and low-budget gems. Bernard, 59, and Barker, 56 — each married with grown kids — were active again at Sundance, where they picked up the psychological thriller Take Shelter and Irish comedy The Guard. The key to a long, healthy partnership? They still eat lunch together every day.
What was your first acquisition?
Michael Barker: After we formed Orion Classics in February of 1983, we went to Cannes, and we couldn’t find a movie to buy. An Eric Rohmer film called Pauline at the Beach was screened in the market. It was already sold to someone, and we got a note that the deal had fallen out and that if we could get over to this theater in five minutes, we should check it out.
Tom Bernard: We fought our way in through these guys, and it was the smelliest room of people I’d ever been in in my life.
Barker: The thing we learned is, it’s never good to be in a desperate position. You have to feel like you can get out of the festival without having a movie. That was a really happy ending, but there have been a few times when we felt like we had to have a movie and we really overstepped our bounds.
Can you put a value on Oscar nominations?
Bernard: It will increase the length of revenues on your picture over time — it’s going to be “a really long tail,” as they say. That picture stands out forever because it was nominated. When there’s new technology, it becomes reissued again out of the pack, it makes the cut, so that’s always valuable. The other stuff depends on the zeitgeist of the moment.
Barker: We had The Triplets of Belleville (2003), which got a nomination for animated feature and best song. We had the composer and his wife do the song on the Oscar show. Fifty percent of our gross was because of that.
You must get sick of each other. How do you resolve conflict?
Barker: We get asked this question a lot, and for the first time, I’d like to answer it in a really clear and serious way. The first time I knew that I was going to be partners with Tom forever was 1981. He said to me: “Listen, you have skills I do not have. I have skills you do not have. Imagine what we could do together.” That was it for me.
OUR CALENDAR: Jan. 31-Feb. 5
Monday: Back in New York, meet with distribution group, strategize adjustments to theatrical holdovers Another Year and The Illusionist. Meet with the ad department; go over posters and campaigns.
Tuesday: For Phase 2 of Oscar campaigns, make decisions about ad buying for Animal Kingdom and Inside Job. Adjust rollouts.
Wednesday: Acquisitions meeting; look at what’s left from Sundance. Start looking at Berlin and Cannes.
Thursday: Lunch meeting with Woody Allen and producer Letty Aronson about Midnight in Paris; discuss taking it to Cannes.
Friday: Weekly conference call with publicity and sales departments. Meet with Morgan Spurlock about marketing The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.
Saturday: Bernard: Play ice hockey and have dinner with some industry friends. Barker: Check out the new Museum of the Moving Image building (I’m on the board); see a silent movie in its state-of-the-art screening room. Dinner with my wife at Ferrante in Stamford, Conn.