Sony's acquisitions unit finds films for many labels

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While specialty divisions drop like flies, Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group has quietly been bucking the trend with a slew of acquisitions, including last year's Sundance hit "Black Dynamite." But, then again, SPWAG is not a specialty division in the traditional sense.

"We're differently situated," SPWAG president Steve Bersch says. "We've got a unique ability to find the right distribution strategy for every film."

What that means is, unlike most acquisitions execs, who find films for one distributor, Bersch and his team can funnel the pictures they buy to a raft of entities.

For instance, SPWAG passed niche films like "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" and "Moon" to Sony Pictures Classics, while more pricey acquisitions such as the South African sci-fi hit "District 9" and the Spanish-produced animated feature "Planet 51" were released through the TriStar Pictures label. In the case of "Terminator Salvation," released domestically by Warner Bros., SPWAG bought the overseas theatrical rights for Sony Pictures Releasing.

SPWAG also partners with third-party distributors like Apparition, which handled the domestic theatrical release of "Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day" (co-financed by Sony), "The Young Victoria" and "Black Dynamite," while Sony took the ancillary markets. SPWAG made a similar arrangement with the Samuel Goldwyn Co. regarding the distribution rights to the Michael Caine starrer "Harry Brown," acquired last fall at the Toronto International Film Festival.

In November, SPWAG signed a three-year marketing and distribution agreement with CBS Films. Under the deal, Sony Pictures will be responsible for international theatrical distribution of all of CBS Films productions, as well as worldwide distribution of those movies in the home entertainment marketplace -- a natural fit given that its chief, Amy Baer, was for many years executive vp production under Sony Pictures chairman Amy Pascal. (CBS Films will handle domestic distribution and retain rights to select foreign territories.)

When it comes to individual acquisitions, Bersch says SPWAG is open to any genre and doesn't have any strict spending parameters. As for Sundance, Bersch is holding his plans close to his vest, but, he allows, "Something always surprises you."
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