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Sony aggressive going in to Sundance

Matukewicz: SPWA looking to acquire films

Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions is poised to be an aggressive buyer at Sundance, according to acquisitions exec Joe Matukewicz.

Making his Sundance debut with SPWA, the recently hired exec says the company offers something unusual: “The power and backing of a studio but the care of an indie” — plus the flexibility to position a film via one of Sony’s multiple arms, including wide-release label TriStar and faith-based label Affirm.

SPWA prexy Steve Bersch is gearing up for a busy Sundance with help from senior veep Matukewicz as well as VP Tana Evans and director of acquisitions Lejo Pet. Michael Helfand, exec veep of business affairs, will join the team on the ground.

Looking at this year’s festival lineup, Matukewicz said it “feels more upbeat and more broad than it has in the past. There are fewer small dramas and more comedies, and I feel the Midnight section is one of the strongest I’ve ever seen.”

He joined SPWA from Relativity and spent a decade working at Paramount. “Before, if I bought a movie, I knew who was going to release it and what the company’s strengths and limitations were. What’s different and really interesting is the variety of options we have access to here. It’s all about finding the right home for the movie, and we’re actively working to expand that list of people and companies we can go to.”

Options for release strategies include a wide release through Sony, working with an arm like Sony Pictures Classics or with companies SPWA has regular dealings with, including Roadside Attractions or Samuel Goldwyn Films.

“FilmDistrict is a logical partner on a lot of our movies, and we’re continuing to work with them,” Matukewicz said, despite the departure of Bob Berney from the fledgling distrib that has partnered with SPWA since its launch. “We’re thoughtful about the movies we buy and when we do buy them, we care about the partners we bring on. We approach these movies as a partnership, and our partners as true creative collaborators,” he explained.

It’s that type of flexible approach that helped SPWA gross $200 million at the box office in 2011, with pics including James Wan’s surprise horror hit “Insidious,” Zoe Saldana starrer “Colombiana,” wedding comedy “Jumping the Broom,” inspirational sports pic “Soul Surfer” and faith-based “Courageous.”

“SPWA made good deals on those movies, particularly with regard to how the deals were structured,” noted Matukewicz, who said the arm is ramping up acquisitions, productions and pre-buys.

With VOD becoming increasingly important, studios are still figuring out how to best structure deals. SPWA was created to buy content for Sony’s various distribution platforms, so VOD is a very important part of big Sony’s business strategy. Matukewicz is particularly excited about the development of production division Stage 6. The label previously released direct-to-video titles but is now moving more into theatrical projects, including Whitney Houston starrer “Sparkle.” “We’re buying from the script stage and actively closing a couple of pre-buy deals to finance modestly budgeted movies,” said Matukewicz.

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