Company spots 'Sleuth'

Sony Pictures Classics has signed on to distribute “Sleuth,” a remake of the 1972 cat-and-mouse drama that will star Michael Caine and Jude Law.

Pact is part of an expansion that will see the company board projects earlier, increase its financing role in films and up the budgets of the movies it distributes from an average of $6 million to as much as $15 million.

“It’s an organic change within the company, but it’s also an organic change within the marketplace,” SPC co-topper Michael Barker said of the shift.

With the finished-film market drying up as specialty divisions get involved with films earlier, he said, there’s a smaller pool for buyers like Sony Classics.

Barker and co-topper Tom Bernard said they are trying to augment their prestige-oriented, auteur-friendly company with greater aspects of a contemporary specialty division. For instance, while the budgets may be getting bigger, Bernard stresses that filmmakers will always have final cut.

“Sleuth,” which Kenneth Branagh is directing from a script by Harold Pinter, has long been a passion project for Law, who is producing via his Riff Raff Prods. shingle. Castle Rock and Media Rights Capital also produce.

First produced as a play by Anthony Shaffer, “Sleuth” centers on an older writer and a younger actor who spend a weekend trying to outwit each other at the writer’s English manor after the writer learns the actor has been having an affair with his wife.

Caine played the younger role in the original (opposite Laurence Olivier) and has been said to be interested in taking on the other role for some time.

Pic begins lensing in Blighty this month. SPC holds rights in North America and Latin America.

Also as part of the expansion, company will release Lynn Redgrave starrer “The Jane Austen Book Club,” about a group of fans of the Victorian writer whose own lives echo Austen’s romantic plots.

Lensing on the John Calley production recently wrapped, and execs told Daily Variety that the movie could be ready for Cannes and be released in the U.S. as early as August.

Company also has added a number of voices to the politically minded Iranian revolution pic “Persepolis,” including Gena Rowlands; earlier, Catherine Deneuve had come on to voice a main character. SPC said both a French version and an English version are being shot, with the distrib not deciding yet which version it will release Stateside.

And execs said the Errol Morris docu “S.O.P.: Standard Operating Procedure,” the expose of the Abu Ghraib scandal produced by “An Inconvenient Truth” shingle Participant Prods., will use reenactments in the manner of helmer’s breakthrough crime docu “The Thin Blue Line.”

Pic is shooting now in an unnamed Arabic country, SPC said, and, pending developments, could be ready for release by the end of 2007.

This year could see SPC release a wide spectrum of pics including “The Children of Huang Shi,” a tale of orphans in Asia in the 1930s starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, along with “And When Did You Last See Your Father?,” a literary biopic of Blake Morrison helmed by “Shopgirl” director Anand Tucker.

Other 2007 releases include East German period drama “The Lives of Others,” Chow Yun Fat martial arts movie “The Curse of the Golden Flower” and the Paul Verhoeven spy saga “Black Book.”

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