Sony Pics arm lights up with Inferno

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Sony Pictures Entertainment's nascent acquisitions unit has entered into a multipicture co-financing and domestic distribution agreement with Inferno Films. The deal gives the Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group all media rights to films produced by Inferno.

The first film covered by the deal is "The Heaven Project," a psychological thriller starring Paul Walker and directed and written by John Glenn. The film is in production.

Pictures at the top of Inferno's development slate include a remake of George Cukor's "The Women," written and to be directed by Diane English, creator of television's "Murphy Brown"; "The Monkey Wrench," an adaptation of the Edward Abbey novel that will be directed by Catherine Hardwicke (William Goldman wrote the screenplay); and "A Dog's Story," a family drama inspired by a Japanese story of a man and his dog.

Inferno is in postproduction on "Smother," which stars Diane Keaton and was produced with Jay Roach. Recent film projects include Richard Kelley's "Southland Tales," with Sarah Michelle Gellar, Justin Timberlake and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson; "Just Friends," with Amy Smart, Ryan Reynolds and Anna Faris; and "The Air I Breathe," starring Forest Whitaker, Kevin Bacon, Andy Garcia, Brendan Fraser and Gellar.

Inferno was launched as an international sales agent in 2002 by Bill Johnson and Jim Seibel. The company branched into film financing and production two years later, with a focus on projects with budgets in the $10 million-$30 million range.

"In the few short years that Inferno has been in business, it has established a strong reputation for producing films in different genres with some of the most recognizable stars in the industry," said Adrian Alperovich, senior executive vp and GM at Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group. "Their movies will be a great complement to our current slate of acquisitions targeting our distribution divisions."

Johnson said the deal "will allow our films to have access to an incredibly powerful array of marketing and distribution divisions within the Sony group."

The deal is expected to yield between five and 10 films, most of which will be released theatrically before they enter the home entertainment channel. International rights to the pictures produced under the deal will be handled through Inferno's in-house foreign sales operation. In recent months, Inferno has closed $265 million of combined debt and equity production financing from a group of institutional investors. This money will be used to finance the slate of films covered by the deal.

Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group was spun off from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in September with the departure of longtime division president Benjamin Feingold. Since becoming its own entity, the acquisitions group was given a broader mandate and is now involved in acquiring and co-financing pictures for various Sony Pictures distribution platforms, including digital.

Just last month, the group partnered with Newmarket Films to acquire all North American distribution rights to "The Nines," written and directed by John August. The film, the first to be directed by the acclaimed screenwriter, had its world premiere in January at the Sundance Film Festival. Newmarket will release the film theatrically, with Sony handling home entertainment and television distribution.
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