Minghella steering Sony to new niches

Late director's daughter is a rising star at studio

As CG toon studios go, Sony Pictures Animation is quite young — and so is its new president of production. But don’t let 29-year-old Hannah Minghella’s youth fool you.

She boasts a genetic advantage — she’s the daughter of the late writer-director Anthony Minghella — and has a master’s degree in English lit from Cambridge. She spent four years working under Meryl Poster at Miramax before joining Sony, where, she explains, “I held a unique position with Amy (Pascal) for the last 3½ years in that I was not tied to any one creative division.”

In her new position, Sony’s secret weapon will be working under Bob Osher, who oversees all of digital production for Sony. She is tasked with developing an animated slate to fit Osher’s new story-focused strategy.

Minghella’s gift, says Osher, is an ability to study material and make insightful suggestions on how to make it stronger.

That’s a major asset for an animation studio without a “Toy Story” or “Shrek” to its name. Minghella’s appointment marks a vote of confidence from Pascal and Sony’s other powers-that-be after the studio hinted last fall that it might sell its animation division.

Minghella will be overseeing a slate of four-quadrant fare designed to keep the studio afloat, including “Hotel Transylvania” and “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” both pushed until at least 2010, and an adaptation of Peyo’s “The Smurfs” that brings the beloved blue toons into the real world. But Minghella also hopes to develop more “sophisticated” films for specific audiences.

“Columbia has been around for a very long time and has a wonderful tradition as a movie studio, but Sony Pictures Animation is still very much in its infancy in terms of evolving a brand identity and a style of filmmaking,” Minghella says. “If you consider animation a technique and not a genre, then there are many genres that have not yet been explored commercially through animation.”

Via its other divisions, Sony has enjoyed success with such niche-oriented toons as “Persepolis,” “Paprika” and “The Triplets of Belleville.” Even prior to their promotions, Osher and Minghella succeeded in wooing Aardman Animation (disappointed with the fate of “Flushed Away” at DreamWorks) into partnering with Sony for their next feature.

Looking back to her live-action days, Minghella remembers ambitious stories that were turned down simply because the technology would have been too expensive. Now she finds herself thinking, “Let’s go back and look at some of those great ideas, because the melding of all the different visual techniques allows us to tell stories that haven’t been told before for practical reasons.”

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