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In the first major strategic move of its new regime, Sony Pictures Entertainment will officially shutter its low-budget indie unit Triumph Films following the completion of its current slate of pics, the studio confirmed Thursday.

Triumph, a 4-year-old production operation created under former chairman Peter Guber’s purview, has had a spotty record at the domestic box office. While some of its pics were profitable, the company never released a breakaway low-budget hit that could carry it.

Sony claimed the move is strategic, rather than financially based.

“Our decision is based on strategy rather than performance,” said John Calley, prexy and chief operating officer of SPE. “We intend to focus and concentrate our development and production operations within Columbia TriStar.”

Triumph had its share of low-level hits such as “Jury Duty” ($17 million) and “Sidekicks” ($25 million). Triumph also suffered such releases as “To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday” ($4.2 million) and “Screamers” ($5.7 million).

Other positive earners included the foreign rights Triumph owned for pics like Mel Brooks’ “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” and “Escape From Absolom,” a Ray Liotta starrer that was titled “No Escape” in the U.S. Less successful were the Mario Van Peebles starrer “Solo” and “Magic in the Water.”

The original idea behind the division was to service Columbia and TriStar as a releasing entity for lower-budget projects that might not fit within the major studios.

When David Saunders, president of Triumph, took it over in 1993, he shifted it into a producing operation, opting for low-budget star-driven pics between $8 million and $10 million.

Lack of bureaucracy

One unique feature the studio had was its lack of bureaucracy. Saunders ran the division himself and made films with very little development. In an interview with Daily Variety a year ago, he said that he preferred to get a script in its finished stage so that he could go into pre-production, rather than suffering a lengthy development process.

Quality talent, low prices

Saunders said the advantage Triumph always had was in finding quality talent for low prices. He would make deals with stars like Michelle Pfeiffer, Donald Sutherland, Kathleen Turner, Ben Kingsley, Mario Van Peebles and Kiefer Sutherland to star in and occasionally direct films. The thesps would often take much less than their normal fees because of the nature of the material and the flexibility of the division.

Saunders, who claims that every Triumph pic will ultimately end in the black after video and TV revenue, said the division should not be dismantled.

“I think it’s a mistake and I think there is definitely room in the marketplace for films like the ones we’re doing,” he said. “Those are films that are intended to be commercial with lower budgets. The proof is that we’re making money.”

Calley, however, maintained that low-budget films would be better serviced and “effectively accommodated” through Col and TriStar.

Saunders will remain with the company through the release of six more Triumph pics, which will keep him there through early 1998. He said he plans to seek out other studios after that to set up operations similar to Triumph. “I think there’s room in the marketplace for good movies that don’t have to cost that much,” he said.

Triumph’s upcoming pics include “Truth or Consequences, N.M.,” starring Kiefer Sutherland, Mykelti Williamson, Martin Sheen and Kevin Pollak, and directed by Sutherland for a May 2 release; “Bliss,” with Craig Sheffer and Sheryl Lee, opening May 16; and “Masterminds,” an action comedy featuring Patrick Stewart and Brenda Fricker in a June 13 bow.

Three other films are in post-production and expected out by early 1998: “The Assignment,” an international thriller about tracking down the terrorist Carlos starring Aidan Quinn, Donald Sutherland and Ben Kingsley; “Baby Geniuses,” a comedy with Turner, Kim Cattrall and Christopher Lloyd; and “In God’s Hands,” an actioner about surfing 50-foot waves helmed by Zalman King.