Sony snaps up ‘Friday’ remake

Schlessel unit on hot Cannes streak

Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisition Group opened its checkbook even wider at Cannes over the weekend, making its biggest fest buy yet for Paul W.S. Anderson’s remake of “The Long Good Friday.”

Sony paid $25 million-$30 million for substantial rights to the pic, one of its three latest pickups. The group plunked down millions more for Al Pacino starrer “88 Minutes” and “Legion,” the directorial debut of ILM vet Scott Stewart. Deals follows Sony’s $11.5 million pickup of James Gray’s competish entry “We Own the Night” over the weekend (Daily Variety, May 21).

Group, headed by Sony’s former production prexy Peter Schlessel, came to the fest eager to feed an annual pipeline of 12-14 domestic theatricals and several times that on direct-to-disc. It acquires pics for Sony labels — Columbia for “We Own the Night,” the semi-dormant TriStar for “88 Minutes” — and teams with unaffiliated partners like Samuel Goldwyn and Millennium on others.

Sony acquired substantial rights, but not all territories worldwide, in its latest deals. For example, it snagged North American rights and all major territories outside Asia for “The Long Good Friday.”

The remake, produced and financed by Handmade Films, is skedded to shoot in the U.S. next year, with the original London gangland story transposed to Miami. Original version, released in the U.K. in 1980, was directed by John Mackenzie and featured Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren.

Remake’s budget is expected to be $50 million-$55 million. Anderson, who previously helmed “AVP: Alien vs. Predator” and “Resident Evil: Apocalypse,” is writing and will direct the film, which will be produced by Jeremy Bolt for Impact Pictures and Patrick Meehan for Handmade.

There were apparently two other bidders in the initial mix when word about a pending deal surfaced Sunday night in Cannes.

Handmade has pre-sold the movie in smaller Euro markets, including Poland, Greece, Portugal and Turkey, as well as Indonesia and Brazil.

Sony picked up North American and select international rights to Millennium’s “88 Minutes,” which is slated for a TriStar theatrical bow next year. Acquisition in effect revives the TriStar label, which had grown fallow with the release of “Premonition” this spring.

Jon Avnet-directed pic was shot last summer. It centers on a college professor who moonlights as forensic psychiatrist for the FBI and receives a death threat claiming he has only 88 minutes to live. Alicia Witt, Amy Brenneman, Leelee Sobieski and William Forsythe co-star.

Avnet and Nu Image/Millennium topper Avi Lerner produced. Nu Image’s Danny Dimbort, Trevor Short and Boaz Davidson exec produced.

Deal comes after Lerner teamed with Avnet to produce “Righteous Kill,” a $60 million indie to star Pacino and Robert De Niro and put together by Millennium and Emmett/Furla Films. Lensing will begin Aug. 6 in Connecticut (Daily Variety, May 18).

Sony scooped up world rights, except the U.S., to Bold Films’ “Legion.”

Supernatural actioner, budgeted at $15 million-$20 million, is being produced and financed by L.A.-based Bold, the company behind “Bobby.” U.K.-based Velvet Octopus brokered the pact valued at just south of $10 million.

Bold has domestic rights and is in talks with several domestic distribs, including the Sony group.

Story, about eight people stranded at a diner in the Mojave Desert on Christmas Eve due to a magnetic force that disables cars, phones and electricity, will combine live-action physical effects and the densely digital look of “Sin City” or “300.”

Sony has long acquired titles as pure homevid plays, but the operation ramped up considerably with Schlessel’s arrival in September. The acquisitions group was then repositioned as a standalone division with ties to theatrical, TV and homevid.

The group has already picked up some 60 titles for release this year. Earlier this month, it inked a co-venture with Inferno Films, a company that has segued from international sales to financing and producing theatrical pics in the $10 million-$20 million range.

The group has also scooped up “Paprika,” a Japanese anime title that Sony Pictures Classics opens this Friday; “The Nines,” a joint venture with Newmarket directed by scribe John August; and three pics to be distributed by Samuel Goldwyn –“Rise: Blood Hunter,” a vampire actioner starring Lucy Liu, which opens June 1; “Revolver,” a Guy Ritchie thriller with lackluster overseas B.O.; and “Southland Tales,” a pic that has been retooled since its Cannes bow last year.

No plans are yet set for a theatrical bow on the latter, which stars Justin Timberlake, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore and Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson.

Schlessel, a familiar figure to execs due to his earlier run at the company, enjoys leeway to make creative deals that leverage the conglom’s sister division and booming international interests.

“We really feel like we have the capability to buy a movie a day,” Schlessel told Daily Variety at the fest. “Given how the business is evolving, we are trying to make sure people have an open mind about how films are released. Everyone wants to know, ‘Will the movie come out theatrically?’ But we’re showing that you have to tailor the release to the film.”

The acquisitions group also has small-screen ties, having secured international rights for Showtime’s “Weeds” and international homevid and TV rights to “The Tudors.”

(Dade Hayes, Adam Dawtrey and Elizabeth Guider in Cannes and Dave McNary in Hollywood contributed to this report.)

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