SPC confirms 2 pickups

Building momentum goinginto its second year, Sony Pictures Classics said Thursday there is still plenty of life left in “Howards End” and confirmed its acquisitions of director Wim Wenders “Far Away, So Close” and director Claude Miller’s “The Accompanist.”

Formed 10 months ago as the specialized marketing and distribution arm of Sony Pictures Entertainment, Sony Classics said it plans to take “Howards End” out to roughly 400 screens on Feb. 19, the week Academy Award nominations are announced.

The move is significant because company toppers Tom Bernard, Michael Barker and Marcie Bloom have been lambasted by competitors for their decision to slowly roll out “Howards End.” Barker said Sony Classics has “heard the criticism, but I think that it has been put to rest by the performance of the movie.”

Through Dec. 27, “Howards End” grossed $ 16,673,610 and has landed among the top 50 box office performers in each of its 42 weeks of release. Rolling out slowly, “Howards End” has previously topped out at about 300 screens in selected cities.

Despite critical acclaim and positive word of mouth, Sony Classics distributed “Howards End” on a market-by-market basis in order to keep expenses low and interest high for the 1993 Oscars, according to Bernard.

“More and more of our competitors are over-spending, which cancels out film rental, in order to get a return in the ancillary markets,” he said.

In the “Howards End” scenario, Bernard said the gradual release of the movie kept print and advertising expenses “extraordinarily low,” adding that he would “give the number” spent on P&A, “but you would not believe it.”

Print and advertising expenses on “Howards End” are estimated at between $ 1 million and $ 2 million–a fraction of the average for a studio release.

While “Howards End” remains at the forefront of Sony Pictures’ plans, its deal for “FarAway, So Close” gives the company a high-profile title for 1993 release.

Acquired from producer Kilian Rebentrost’s Tobis Filmkunst production shingle , director Wenders’ sequel to “Wings of Desire” stars Bruno Ganz, Otto Sander, Peter Falk, Willem Dafoe, Nastassja Kinski and Lou Reed and features a cameo by Mikhail Gorbachev. (Reed also contributed some of the wilder sides of pic’s soundtrack.)

Producer Rebentrost said he received two higher offers from competing independent distributors, but he opted to go with Sony Classics because the company guaranteed the widest sensible distribution of the movie in the United States. “I didn’t make the deal for money,” he said. “I made it for love.”

In the “FarAway, So Close” deal, Sony Pictures Classics acquired North American, South American and United Kingdom rights to the pic. Bloom said the structure of the acquisition is significant because it is the first time Sony Classics has purchased rights beyond North America for one of its movies.

“From the outset of the company, we envisioned taking advantage of the other entities and sister companies that make up Sony Pictures Entertainment,” Bloom said. “This deal places us in partnership with Columbia TriStar Intl.” in South American and U.K. distribution, she said.

Sony Classics plans to increase its work with SPE’s television arm and its partnerships with SPE’s international distribution operations in 1993, as it attempts to take the business of marketing and distributing independent films “one step further,” Bernard said.

For example, SPE’s Columbia TriStar Pay Television unit is exploiting the potential of such Sony Classics titles as “Howards End” and “Indochine” in the hotel and airline marketplaces — revenue streams that are often untapped by independent distributors.

Sony Pictures Classics acquired all U.S. rights to “Accompanist” from producer Jean-Louis Levi’s Film Par Film production company and Roissy Films sales agent Alain Vannieer. Sony Classics closed the deal late last week, and has yet to hash out distribution plans for the movie.

Based on a novel by Nina Berberova, “Accompanist” is about a young pianist in Nazi-occupied Paris who has the opportunity to play with renowned singer Irene Brice. In the process, the young pianist is swept into the world of the singer and her businessman husband, who collaborates with the Nazis in order to maintain his high standard of living. Pic stars Romane Bohringer, Elena Safonova and Richard Bohringer.

While Sony Classics’ first year has established the company as a force in the indie arena, Bloom said it does not view itself as in competition with such companies as Miramax, Fine Line and Goldwyn.

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