“Movie Stars Are Made On The Screen, Not The Stream” – Deadline


Celebrated by the Zurich Film Festival with the event’s Game Changer Award, Sony Pictures Classics co-heads Michael Barker and Tom Bernard today attended a Zurich Summit panel on their careers and the state of the specialty business.

The duo have devoted their lives to the theater sector and the promotion of art-house films, work that has resulted in more than 150 Academy Award nominations for SPC titles, including Best Picture nominees The father, call me by your name, love, whiplash, Capote, Midnight in Paris, an education, Howard’s end and Crouching tiger hidden dragon.

Zurich Summit: Full coverage of Deadline

During an entertaining and welcome trip down memory lane, Barker shared with the audience how he first met Bernard during a sprite in the late 1970s. The duo previously worked together at UA Classics and Orion Classics. “It’s impressive that you haven’t killed each other yet,” quipped CAA Media Finance’s Roeg Sutherland. “What was the key to your longevity together?” he asked.

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“Do you want to be the king? no The movies are king,” replied Bernard. “We both know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and have stayed involved in everything. The trailers, the posters, the little things.”

Barker commented, “As Tom says, ‘when things go wrong there’s always a plan B.'”

The duo credited their small but loyal team as key to their sustained success, including acquisitions and marketing directors Dylan Leinert and Carmelo Pirrone. “We still have the same 25 employees who have worked for us for decades. We like to have a lot of young people in the workforce because they keep us young.”

“Sony has always wanted a quality label for films,” explained Barker. “They wooed us when we were with Orion. The Japanese were very interested in a quality brand and the talent it would bring. They were thinking very long-term.”

Co-existing with the streamers was just the latest challenge for SPC, which was founded by Bernard, Barker and Marcie Bloom in the early ’90s. But the streamers are not enemies, explained Bernard.

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“We don’t see streamers as competitors. In the 80’s and 90’s we had many competitors. Every company is different today. Everyone has a different model. There is no single way. Look at all these traditional studios. They release movies in so many different ways now. One advantage is that at Sony, as Tom Rothman said, we don’t have a platform. That gives us flexibility. But for SPC, theater is still key. Movie stars are made on screen, not streamed.”

He noted that the streamers are heavily involved in art house film, including acquisitions. “When the pandemic hit, we organized all our titles in terms of TV opportunities. We went to the streamers with a board. It turns out that platforms like HBO Max are very interested in foreign language films… We could have good deals during the pandemic. People were knocking on our door trying to buy The father.”

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The duo cites box office hits and critical smash Crouching tiger hidden dragon as a “game changer” for the foreign language business. “It changed the world of subtitles. People came out and didn’t even know it had subtitles. It was action, it was romance, it was a game changer.”

They were also asked to name their favorite directors. Barker cited Louis Malle as “one of my best friends: I loved having dinner with him” and Guillermo Del Toro as “one of the greatest conversationalists of all time”. Bernard praised Ang Lee as “humble, smart, loyal and a friend”.

The attraction of the brand meant that it was often able to assert itself against its strongest competitors right from the start. Barker recalled Harvey Weinstein bidding millions Howard’s end in the early ’90s, but producer Ismael Merchant was happy to take $1 million from SPC, making it their first major acquisition.





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