×

TriStar adds new label to table

Sony's multiple fiefdoms overlap, puzzles many in town

In an age of corporate streamlining, Sony Pictures is moving in the other direction, with not one but three specialty divisions — Screen Gems, Sony Pictures Classics and TriStar Pictures. And this month United Artists joins the stable through the studio’s buy-out of MGM along with a consortium of investors. Sony also has a handful of never-heard-of limited release and home entertainment labels such as Triumph and Destination.

Sony’s more established divisions have familiar profiles — upscale artfilms at Sony Pictures Classics, carefully-budgeted genre fare at Screen Gems — but what does the year-old TriStar represent? Eleven months after the winged horse was lifted from label dormancy as an acquisitions and production entity, few in town can attest to its mandate.

When asked to define TriStar one manager paused before saying, “I’m not really sure. I guess they do what Screen Gems doesn’t?”

Needless to say, TriStar is not an exact replica of its former self. In the 1980’s TriStar was a significant player under the leadership of Mike Medavoy, releasing such mainstream hits as “Hook.”

Theoretically, TriStar is Sony’s answer to Fox Searchlight and seeks to “acquire or produce the kind of picture that is inexpensive, very cutting-edge and is in the best situation to break out commercially,” says Sony vice-chair Jeff Blake.

Part of the confusion over the label stems from TriStar’s multi-purpose staffing. TriStar prexy Valerie Van Galder also serves as head of marketing at Screen Gems, so she might be taking pitch meetings with directors and agents one minute, and attending marketing meetings for “Underworld 2” the next. Van Galder’s TriStar staff, with the addition of Miramax vet Matt Brodlie, is her former Screen Gems staff.

“I’m somebody who can do a lot of things at once,” Van Galder says by way of explanation.

TriStar’s rebirth was the result of Van Galder’s desire to focus on films that didn’t fall into Screen Gems’ domain.

“I was really hungry on a personal level to work on additional kinds of films,” she says, adding that her sensibility was formed at Fox Searchlight, where she worked before Screen Gems.

“So this company came up with a paradigm where I could retain all my Screen Gems marketing duties, but augment my role producing and acquiring. It’s a tribute to Sony. They’re really flexible here about letting their personnel find their best roles at the company.”

TriStar’s first release will be “Lords of Dogtown,” directed by Catherine Hardwicke, due out June 3. Next will be Roman Polanski’s “Oliver Twist” this fall — what ostensibly could be a Sony Pictures Classics release — followed by an untitled Albert Brooks comedy, which sounds more like Columbia fare.

At a time when multiple markets provide significant revenue streams, from foreign box office to DVDs, having more than one distribution pipeline isn’t necessarily unwise.

Yet Sony’s multiple fiefdoms — including the studio’s mother ship Columbia Pictures — tend to overlap in a way that puzzles many in town.

“Whereas with Fox, if you have a certain project you know you go to Fox Searchlight, at Sony it’s much less clear,” says one agent. “You end up going to Columbia, and when they pass, you end up at Screen Gems.”

“Lords of Dogtown,” was originally developed at Columbia. With a TriStar release, the ’70s-set skateboard-themed saga can take advantage of TriStar’s tiny slate to focus on a more targeted campaign.

And while Screen Gems has traditionally been Sony’s go-to place for low-budget horror films, lately Col has entered the fray, with “The Grudge” and the upcoming “30 Days of Night.” Recently, the fright film “Priest” landed at Screen Gems only after Col passed.

Sony maintains that each division “has its own mission” and that there isn’t any line-blurring.

Blake adds that diversification lends itself to today’s broad marketplace.

“There’s a huge foreign market and more revenue coming out of DVD than any place else. While everyone still wants to be number one at the domestic theatrical box office, what is really a smart thing to do is to have a very diversified portfolio for all these income streams.”

Sony’s abundance of divisions may give the studio more options, but it also creates added overhead as well as competition.

It’s confusing not just on the lot — where there’s some frustration over Sony’s laissez-faire tendency to let things fall where they may — but at film fests, where Sony shows up with three teams that could potentially want to buy the same films.

Sony is not the only studio in town to dabble in diversity.

At Warner Bros. New Line, Warner Independent and Bob Berney’s new label could all end up duking it out for productions and acquisitions.

Blake admits that “We’re flexible.” Though he quickly adds, “But each group has a mission. The mission at Columbia is certainly the one that covers most bases.”

More Film

  • ‘Half-Sister’ Director Damjan Kozole on Compassion,

    ‘Half-Sister’ Director Damjan Kozole on Compassion, Learning From the Past

    Two estranged half-siblings from a small coastal town in Slovenia spend the better part of their young lives ignoring each other’s existence. But when circumstances force them to move into the same cramped apartment, they have no choice but to come to terms with the past that binds them, while trying to decide how to [...]

  • The Traitor

    MMC Studios, One of Germany's Biggest Production Facilities, Changes Hands

    Germany’s MMC Studios, which has hosted such recent international productions as Joseph Gordon-Levitt thriller “7500” and Marco Bellocchio’s Cannes competition film “The Traitor,” is changing hands. Frankfurt-based investment company Novum Capital has acquired the facility in Cologne, one of Germany’s biggest film and TV studios, from Luxembourg private equity fund Lenbach Equity Opportunities I. The [...]

  • Box Office: 'Annabelle Comes Home' Kicks

    Box Office: 'Annabelle Comes Home' Kicks Off Tuesday With Solid $3.5 Million

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “Annabelle Comes Home” collected a strong $3.5 million in Tuesday night previews. The supernatural thriller is expected to earn $30 million over its first five days in theaters. “Annabelle Comes Home” is the third “Annabelle” movie and seventh entry in the Conjuring franchise. Preview ticket sales are in line with [...]

  • Naomi Watts Thriller 'The Wolf Hour'

    Naomi Watts Thriller 'The Wolf Hour' Picked Up for U.S. by Brainstorm Media

    “The Wolf Hour,” a psychological thriller starring Naomi Watts and Jennifer Ehle, has been picked up for North America by Brainstorm Media. HanWay Films has also closed sales for a host of European and Asian territories. Directed by Alistair Banks Griffin, “The Wolf Hour” features Oscar-nominated Watts as June, a former countercultural celebrity who lives [...]

  • A Star Is Born

    'A Star Is Born' Soundtrack Surpasses Global Sales of 6 Million

    Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s onscreen chemistry continues to be felt on the official soundtrack to “A Star is Born,” which just surpassed 6 million albums sold globally and has been certified double platinum in the U.S. Released by Interscope Records in 2018, the album debuted atop the charts and remains the highest-selling album of [...]

  • monty-python-are-fifty-in-2019

    Previously Unreleased Monty Python Audio to Get Airing for Troupe's 50th Anniversary

    Michael Palin will exec-produce series of radio specials containing never-before-released audio from Monty Python as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations for the iconic comedy troupe. They will play on the BBC in the U.K. and then go out in the U.S. Palin and his fellow Pythons – John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry [...]

  • The Eight Hundred (The 800)

    Huayi Brothers' Stock Falls 8% After 'The Eight Hundred' Cancellation

    Huayi Brothers’ stock fell by more than 8% on Wednesday, the day after the veteran Chinese studio announced that its new war epic, “The Eight Hundred,” will not hit Chinese theaters as scheduled next week. Shares dropped from RMB5.48 to RMB5.02 overnight after Huayi said Tuesday that its summer blockbuster’s theatrical debut would be indefinitely [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content