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Sony unit ready to buy films in bulk

Global division to deal with unaffiliated partners

In Cannes, a single acquisition often makes news.

But Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group came here to buy in bulk. (See related story: Columbia takes rights to ‘Night’.)

Headed by Sony’s former production prexy Peter Schlessel, the group doesn’t just send its pickups into the consumer marketplace via Sony channels. In order to facilitate its plan to spearhead 12 to 14 domestic theatrical releases a year (and several times that on DVD), it often pays distribution fees to unaffiliated partners, or enters into 50-50 joint ventures.

For example, Newmarket will team 50-50 with the Sony group for “The Nines,” a Hope Davis-Ryan Reynolds drama from GreeneStreet Films. Samuel Goldwyn is distribbing three titles. Among them: “Rise: Blood Hunter,” a vampire actioner with Lucy Liu and Michael Chiklis that screened at Tribeca and will open June 1; and “Revolver,” a Guy Ritchie-directed gangster thriller starring Jason Statham. Latter fizzled overseas but could appeal to U.S. action auds who devoured Statham’s “Transporter” pics.

The third Goldwyn title will ring a bell for Cannes regulars. It’s “Southland Tales,” the Richard Kelly sci-fier that was hooted off the Croisette in 2006. Kelly pledged at the time to rework the film and he has, Schlessel said.

“It’s a film that’s intrinsically interesting to people,” said Scott Shooman, exec director of acquisitions and production. “People will want to talk about it.”

Laced with musical numbers, the film has a poppy cast including Justin Timberlake, Mandy Moore and Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson.

Several of the pic’s principals have talked of a theatrical bow, but no plans are set, execs said.

Also due in theaters is “Paprika,” Japanese anime title originally ticketed for DVD or a four-wall theaterical run, but due in theaters from Sony Pictures Classics on May 25.

Sony has long acquired titles as pure homevid plays, but the hybrid division took flight in January, after Schlessel’s arrival in September. It was then named and positioned as a stand-alone division with ties to Sony’s theatrical film, TV and home video operations.

In the months since, the company has been on a buying spree, picking up some 60 titles for release in 2007.

“Peter likes to come into my office and ask, ‘So what did you buy today?'” Shooman said.

“We really feel like we have the capability to buy a movie a day,” Schlessel said. “Given how the business is evolving, we are trying to make sure people have an open mind about how films are released. Everyone always wants to know, ‘Will the movie come out theatrically?’ But we’re showing that you have to tailor a release to the film.”

One difference between the company and other bidders on festival fare is that it has unlimited upward scalability. Some of its titles could be brought in and released wide through Sony or another major studio partner.

In that vein, the division earlier this month announced a co-venture with Inferno Films, a company known for international sales but also recently a force in financing and production of pics in the $10 million to $20 million range (e.g., “Just Friends” at New Line).

All the pics resulting from the pact are expected to bow theatrically. One of the first is “Daddy Day Care,” due out Aug. 8 from Sony.

The acquisitions group also has ties to television, having secured international rights for Showtime’s “Weeds” and international DVD and TV rights to the pay cabler’s “The Tudors.”

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