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Sony Classics Chief Shares Survival Secrets

LONDON — “It’s always difficult. Life is a struggle,” Michael Barker, co-prexy of Sony Pictures Classics, told an audience of producers and film financiers during the keynote address at the Film London Production Finance Market, which runs Oct. 16-17 in London.

Survival in the independent film biz depends to a large extent on detailed management of costs, revenues and profit. “If that discipline wasn’t there, we wouldn’t be here,” he said. “You have to pay attention to every revenue stream.”

Barker said that SPC looks for “evergreens” — films that are likely to have long-term revenue-earning potential. He gave the example of Mike Leigh’s biopic about English artist JMW Turner. “We firmly believe that it is a movie that will stand the test of time,” he said.

The skill of the producer and the distributor lay in making the right decisions. “It is all in the choices you make — not only when you make your film, but in the distribution of your film,” he said.

Barker used the example of Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” which SPC had decided to release in the middle of summer, after consulting with producer Letty Aronson. The distrib managed to harness social media to stimulate interest in the film at a time when most screens were filled with blockbusters.

Indie distribs like SPC could use social media to help niche pictures, like “Blue Jasmine,” crossover into the mainstream. For example, SPC used social media to reach the fanbase of two of the film’s stars, Louis C.K. and Andrew Dice Clay, which broadened the audience for the film.

“Niche doesn’t necessarily mean small,” Barker said.

He said that film critics still had a role in directing arthouse audiences toward hidden gems. “I firmly believe that the audience that goes to independent films pay attention to critics,” he said. Social media, he added, may help to boost the attention paid to film critics, whose numbers have declined rapidly in recent years, and ensure their survival.

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