Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Comes to Cannes With an Appetite (Cannes)

"Soul Surfer"

"We've had a good spring, and we have a good fall teed up, and we’d like to keep the momentum going," says SPWA president Steve Bersch.

CANNES -- Coming off a spring that saw a number of its acquisitions -- most especially the horror tale Insidious -- flourish in the domestic market, Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions arrives in Cannes this week with a healthy appetite for more.

“We’ve had a good spring, and we have a good fall teed up, and we’d like to keep the momentum going,” says SPWA president Steve Bersch, who is leading a team that includes vps of acquisitions and productions Scott Shooman and LiaBuman.

Formally a division of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, SPWA became a stand-alone division in 2007. SPWA still buys a fair amount of TV product, but as the DVD market has declined, its focus has increasingly shifted to titles with real theatrical potential.

SPWA’s pitch to seller is its flexibility. As part of parent company Sony Pictures Entertainment, it’s got access to Sony’s various releasing labels and entities such as Screen Gems, Tristar and Sony Pictures Classics, and it also uses outside releasing partners like FilmDistrict or Samuel Goldwyn Films.

In the case of James Wan’s economical horror tale Insidious, which cost just $1.5 million to produce, SPWA acquired U.S. rights at the Toronto Film Festival and then partnered with Peter Schlessel and Bob Berney’s new FilmDistrict, which released the movie at the beginning of April and has seen it gross a powerful $50.3 million to date.

SPWA picked up domestic and some international rights to Soul Surfer, the inspirational tale of a teenage surfer’s comeback after losing an arm to a shark, even before the movie began production, and then released it through TriStar, with FilmDistrict handling the marketing, last month, to the tune of $7 million. And just last weekend, it used TriStar to release the African-American comedy Jumping the Broom, which SPWA had a role in producing, as counter-programming to the mighty Thor -- the movie opened in third place with a weekend take of $15.2 million.

Most recently, SPWA has acquired U.S. rights to the London-set alien invasion movie Attack the Block, which Screen Gems is set to distribute.

A buy doesn’t always have to include domestic distribution, though. At last year’s Cannes, for example, SPWA bought a slew of international rights to Joe Wright’s Hanna from Focus International.

“Since we don’t have to fill a slate, it’s all opportunistic buying,” Bersch says. “Ultimately, we’re looking for pictures that work on a visceral level.”