The Academy announced rule changes that will allow all members for the first time to vote in all 24 categories including Foreign Language and Documentary Shorts, either via theatrical screenings or DVD. Previously members had to attend special screenings for …
Academy Announces New Rule Changes At Membership Meeting; All Members Can Now Vote On Foreign Language Films
When it comes to Oscar savvy we often hear Harvey Weinstein talked about as the kingpin of the game, but when you look at the success of Sony Pictures Classics you realize it rivals Weinstein, Searchlight, Focus and other comers in consistently, and annually, releasing and nurturing one contender after another in the quest for the elusive statuette of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Since the company was founded in December 1991, key to its success has been its co-Presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard who first worked together in similar specialty divisions at United Artists and Orion and now continue to run one of the most stable indie shops in the industry. But with a total of 25 Oscar wins and 109 nominations just at SPC they clearly have the Midas touch, and that includes a slew of Best Picture nominations for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (their biggest hit to date), Howard’s End, Capote, An Education, Midnight In Paris and this year’s Amour which won the Palme d’Or in Cannes and has amassed five Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film, only the fifth film in Academy history to be named in both categories. With writing and directing nods for Michael Haneke as well as a realistic Best Actress bid for star Emmanuelle Riva the film looks to be another strong contender for the pair who continue to be one of the few high profile companies that still champions foreign language films. SPC serves up a wide variety of specialty fare of all types and always seems to find a footing in the Oscar race which has become an important part of their business plan. With two contenders for Best Documentary and two for Best Foreign Language Film in addition to the Best Picture bid, the pair are fixtures at every major film festival and are once again making lots of noise in their high season. I spoke to both late last week about the upcoming Oscars and what it means to their bottom line.
Deadline: How important is this Oscar business to the actual business of Sony Pictures Classics?
Bernard: It’s part of the business for Sony Pictures Classics because we can get movies, or have movies, that won’t get the recognition that they deserve any other way. And if they get that recognition what we have found is that the boxoffice and ancillary and profits of these movies get much better. We can go all the way back to Camille Claudel when we had Isabelle Adjani and somebody close to her suggested that you should run a campaign for her for Best Actress and we said ‘it will never happen, no one will watch the movie. We can’t get them to the theatre. And the person said ‘well why don’t you send out VHS cassettes to the Academy’ so we did and sent them to the actors branch and lo and behold we got a nomination. And it took that movie to a level it would have never gotten if it didn’t happen.
BREAKING: This hardly qualifies as a cliffhanger, but Sony Pictures Classics has formalized a deal for North American rights to Blue Jasmine, the next film written and directed by Woody Allen. SPC partners Michael Barker and Tom Bernard make this their sixth picture and fourth in a row with The Woodman. That includes From Rome With Love and Midnight In Paris, the latest in Allen’s picture postcard tour of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Blue Jasmine, for which Allen returned to his old Gotham haunt to shoot, stars Alec Baldwin, Cate Blanchett, Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K., Andrew Dice Clay, Sally Hawkins, Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg. It is the story of the final stages of an acute crisis and a life of a fashionable New York housewife. The film is produced by Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum and Edward Walson, and the deal was made by Gravier Productions.
With 5 new movies screening just on Saturday alone with many of their stars and filmmakers in tow, co-presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard of Sony Pictures Classics are dominating much of the conversation and eyeballs at the 39th Telluride Film Festival. Playing today were SPC’s Cannes sensations Rust & Bone accompanied by star Marion Cotillard, and Palme d’Or winner Amour, whose filmmakers aren’t here. Plus 2013 planned releases No (winner of the Director’s Fortnight in Cannes) and its star Gael Garcia Bernal, and the father/son drama At Any Price whose Dennis Quaid and writer/director Ramin Bahrani are here without Zac Efron. Plus, the remarkable Israeli documentary The Gatekeepers. Barker and Bernard have been coming to Telluride for decades and strongly believe in the value of the festival. “I think anywhere from three to five movies is a good number” to bring here, he told me. And when they aren’t showing their own product, they have been seen at screenings checking out acquisition titles. They also held SPC’s annual filmmakers dinner Saturday night at La Marmotte restaurant.
But other top indie divisions of the majors are virtually sitting out this year’s fest. Telluride regular Fox Searchlight doesn’t have a single film on display here this year, though not for lack of trying. Searchlight has launched movies like Slumdog Millionaire, Juno and last year’s The Descendants among many others at Telluride – and this time wanted to bring their big awards hopeful, The Sessions starring John Hawkes and Helen Hunt. But Telluride generally frowns on movies that first debuted at Sundance. So the only Searchlight presence are reps checking out films for sale.
The Weinstein Company normally shows off their top titles, but only brought the undated musical The Sapphires (first seen at Cannes in May). It’s playing well at screenings here. No The Master. No Silver Linings Playbook. Both those movies will be in Toronto. However Weinstein in years past launched Best Picture winners The King’s Speech and The Artist at Telluride.
True, Universal’s arthouse division Focus Features this year is front and center with Hyde Park On Hudson. Its star Bill Murray hit town today and co-star Laura Linney lives here and is attending the fest. But Focus is saving another awards title, Anna Karenina, for a Toronto debut. Paramount, which has been here in the past, skipped Telluride and will miss Toronto in favor of debuting their awards players Flight and Not Fade Away at the New York Film Festival.
The 9/11 anniversary was a strong memory in Toronto because it happened right in the middle of 2001′s film festiva – even though it was business as usual today. In fact the pace of this place just seems to be quickening. Deals, as Deadline’s Mike Fleming reports, were slow to percolate but may be picking up. Most buyers I talk to are irritated by some sellers’ insistence that their film be released this year in time for Oscar consideration. That’s a tall order and leaves little time for creating a marketing campaign, much less an awards strategy. Nevertheless, that was one of the demands made by the sellers of the controversial Shame during negotiations. Fox Searchlight agreed, others didn’t. In fact I was told that Sony Pictures Classics, which wanted the picture, came up with a smart strategy they compared to The Weinstein Company’s for Colin Firth. That consisted of Firth doing a lot of campaigning and earning a nomination for A Single Man in 2010, thus laying the groundwork for his The King’s Speech win the next year. SPC was going to put Michael Fassbender out there and get him recognition for their November release of David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method and then release Shame later in 2012 for a one-two punch that the Academy would notice. No go. The sales people behind Shame insisted it be released this year, thereby throwing the Venice Film Festival’s Best Actor winner into an already overcrowded awards race that among others includes George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Gary Oldman, and Leonardo DiCaprio who are better known — at least at this point.
One former studio head-turned-producer complained loudly to me today that this kind of strategy is not necessarily what’s good for the movie and asked, “Isn’t that what we should be concerned with over anything else?” For example, Open Road’s Tom Ortenberg is here with his first release Killer Elite but is not rushing into a year-end release if it might end up hurting the bottom line. “Isn’t the 2012 Oscar race just as good as this year’s?” he asked. He might consider putting the Liam Neeson film The Grey into a year-end qualifying run since Neeson’s performance is said to be so strong. But only if it was in the best interest of the film. When he was at Lionsgate, Ortenberg acquired Crash at Toronto but held it for a May release. Then he did a now-legendary and successful Oscar campaign almost 1 1/2 years after the Toronto buy. The same strategy worked for The Hurt Locker two years ago. Both went on to win Best Picture.
Nevertheless, several films for sale in Toronto are said to be eyeing a 2011 release in order to get into the Oscar race. These include Luc Besson’s The Lady, which premieres Monday night and which I have already seen. It contains two powerhouse performances from Michelle Yeoh who could jump into the lead actress race. There’s also David Thewlis for Supporting Actor. The Lady will certainly be part of any sales discussion, but I know of at least one mini-major who would like the film but just not for this year. As I mentioned yesterday, Barrymore with its sensational title performance from Christopher Plummer also wants to make a deal that includes a 2011 year-end release. Also director Zhang Yimou’s epic The Flowers of War (formerly Nanking) starring Oscar-winner Christian Bale had a 20-minute footage presentation here and hopes to get a domestic deal in place in time for a possible year-end run at Oscar. I am told it could certainly be ready what with its debut in Beijing in December.
Deadline told you last week that Sony Pictures Classics was wrapping up distribution on Roman Polanski’s adaptation of the Broadway hit God of Carnage. They’ve just announced the deal for the movie, with the abbreviated title Carnage:
NEW YORK (February 15, 2011) – Sony Pictures Classics announced today that they have acquired all US rights to Academy Award® nominee Agnieszka Holland’s IN DARKNESS from sales agent Beta Cinema. The film, based on the true story “In the Sewers of lvov” by Robert Marshall, is written