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Sony Pictures Classics

Sony Pictures Classics continues to define itself as one of the few specialty shingles interested in films as art.

But the success of last year’s Oscar winner “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” raised the company’s profile, leaving no doubt in the community that the lean, Gotham-based label could finesse a commercial hit.

Still, SPC co-topper Michael Barker knows how tough the marketplace can be for specialized product. “I think the profit margins become leaner and leaner,” he says. “Marketing expenses are higher. Shipping costs are higher. Talent costs are higher. That makes it harder than ever to make substantial money as far as profits on these pictures, and the only way to do so is to be cost effective in every part of your business.”

SPC has proven itself especially adept at finding and distributing documentaries and films from overseas. While other U.S. shingles had a tepid Cannes market, SPC was active, nabbing the fest’s Grand Jury Prize winner “A Man Without a Past” from Finnish helmer Aki Kaurismaki, Oscar nominated Brazilian helmer Hector Babenco’s “Carandiru,” U.S. pic “Owning Mohowny,” Russian director Alexander Rogozhkin’s “Cuckoo” and French doc “Winged Migration,” among other pics.

At the box-office, SPC this year has had modest success with such pics as Argentina’s “Nine Queens,” the doc “Dogtown and Z-boys” and recent release “13 Conversations About One Thing,” with newcomer “My Life is an Actress” generating good buzz in its initial 7 screen roll-out. Shingle is also pleased with the early grosses for inhouse production, “Sunshine State,” directed by John Sayles.

But the best, says co-topper Michael Barker, is yet to come. Barker says the company has its highest hopes on forthcoming Pedro Almovador pic “Talk to Her” and Paul Shrader’s “Auto Focus,” both of which SPC produced and plans to push for Oscars in several categories including Almovador for best director and best screenplay.

SPC is also setting its sights on an Oscar push for Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Sundance acquisition “Love Liza,” and for Francis McDormond in “Laurel Canyon” and Alan Arkin in “13 Conversations.”

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