Sony Pictures Classics heads into the Feb. 22 Oscars with 18 nominations. Aside from being a company record, those noms represent two words associated with SPC: loyalty and longevity.
Toppers Michael Barker and Tom Bernard are proud that so many of their nominees are veterans of past SPC films. “With Julianne Moore, we go back to ‘Vanya on 42nd Street,’” says Barker. “We’ve worked with Wim Wenders (in the docu race) since ‘Wings of Desire.’ Tom Cross, the editor of ‘Whiplash,’ was an assistant to Tim Squyres on ‘Crouching Tiger.’”
Barker rattles off a list that also includes director Bennett Miller, writer Dan Futterman, Mark Ruffalo, and the team on Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner”: costume designer Jacqueline Durran, d.p. Dick Pope and composer Gary Yershon. And aside from the nominees themselves, SPC’s former collaborators include people associated with the films in contention, such as “Still Alice’s” writer-directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland and exec producer Christine Vachon.
“So when we go to the Oscars this year, we will really feel part of the enduring film community because we have long-term working relationships with so many people,” adds Barker.
SPC’s Oscar bids include five for “Foxcatcher,” five for “Whiplash,” four for “Mr. Turner” and one apiece for “Leviathan,” “Salt of the Earth,” “Still Alice” and “Wild Tales.”
“We’ve had one of our best years because this has been a really good year for movies,” Bernard tells Variety. “It’s almost a throwback to the ’70s, with auteur-driven films and filmmakers who have something to say — and theaters have adapted. You can have ‘Foxcatcher’ or ‘Whiplash’ on over 500 screens. That wasn’t always the case.” Just a few years ago, it was rare for a specialty film to score more than 100 screens.
“American indie filmmakers are getting much, much better,” says Bernard. “If you look at Sundance, Toronto, Cannes, you see American indie directors up there with the studios. The filmmaking tools are accessible and the system is easier to navigate.”
Sony Classics has scored Oscar nominations every year since Barker, Bernard and Marcie Bloom started the company in 1992, with “Howards End.” In the ensuing decades, a slew of specialty divisions have come and gone: Gramercy Pictures, October Films, USA Films, Paramount Vantage, Paramount Classics, Overture Films, FilmDistrict, Warner Independent, et al. Others, like UA and Miramax, have morphed dramatically.
SPC is unique because the original bosses are still there — and because it has maintained the size of its staff, 25 people.
That’s in keeping with the company’s low-key style. Their 20th anniversary passed with little fanfare, as Barker and Bernard preferred to emphasize their filmmakers, not themselves.
They also are hands-on. As Bernard told Variety, “We never remove ourselves from the day-to-day process. We came from a college-film-series mentality. I was a print shipper, salesman, I did accounting — we’ve done every job. We have a staff that really loves movies, and they’re here because they like to work on these films. We only buy movies that we like and we think can work.”
Asked on nomination day how they were celebrating, Bernard joked to Variety, “It’s just business as usual in the salt mines.” In other words, they got excited, then went back to work.