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International unit touts deep pockets

Mandate is to buy 12-14 films a year

One of the unique features of the Sony map as drawn by Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal is the Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group.

While it has existed for more than two decades, the top bosses recently re-energized the unit, installing former studio production chief and Pascal protege Peter Schlessel as its head. The mandate of the group expanded from mostly homevideo to an ambitious mix including theatrical, international and co-finance opportunities.

“We basically look at each picture in isolation and see what the right plan for it is,” Schlessel explains. “Should it be in theaters? Is there a logical partner? How can we market it? Does international make sense?”

Schlessel and a trio of hard-charging younger execs are pursuing not only a customized strategy but a volume approach, aiming to acquire 12-14 pics a year that are suited for theatrical release, plus several times that for DVD.

“The idea was to change the way we were handling pictures and also simplify the way the town deals with Sony Pictures,” he says.

The group’s refined profile and greater clout within Culver City was evident in its series of big buys in Cannes, including competition title “We Own the Night,” the Joaquin Phoenix/Mark Wahlberg starrer that the group picked up for $11.5 million for Sony to release this fall. Other recent pickups include international rights to Frank Miller’s “The Spirit” and North American rights for “88 Minutes,” a Jon Avnet-helmed thriller starring Al Pacino.

Over the past few months, deals have been unveiled with Samuel Goldwyn, GreeneStreet Films, Sony Pictures Classics and even sales-oriented companies such as Inferno and production entities like Handmade.

This steady hum of activity means lines of communication must remain open, but Schlessel credits his long history with Lynton and Pascal for ensuring that.

“They’re very careful not to play mommy and daddy,” Schlessel says. “When you talk to one, you’re getting the views of both of them. They opine on everything together.”

Having risen through the production ranks, Schlessel believes the group broadens his strategic abilities and also suits the current film landscape.

“It’s a potpourri,” he says. “You get involved in so many different things, from whether it’s a small release or big release to the cutting of trailers to the TV rights to international. It keeps you fresh because you’re not reading scripts all day.”

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