Sony Pictures Classics’ founders and presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard have a longstanding reputation for making smart buys at key festivals, pick-ups that pay off both at the B.O. and during awards season. Two years ago they acquired Whiplash for an estimated $2.5M, a title that yielded $13.1M at the domestic B.O. and three Oscar wins including one for supporting actor J.K. Simmons. Last year, they paid $2M for the Lily Tomlin movie Grandma which grossed over $7M and was in the awards conversation with a Golden Globe comedy actress nom and a slot on the National Board of Review’s top 10 independent films. This year, SPC is walking away from the Sundance Film Festival with three titles: Wall Street drama Equity starring Anna Gunn, John Krasinski’s The Hollars and the documentary Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words. With this year’s festival posting some record acquisitions, from Fox Searchlight’s $17.5M pick-up of The Birth of a Nation to Amazon acquiring Manchester by the Sea for a near $10M, Barker and Bernard sat down with Deadline to provide a reality check on this year’s hyper-aggressive sales market where Netflix and Amazon surfaced as key players. The SPC chiefs also address the Oscar’s inclusion dilemma this year and why Truth, their hot Toronto International Film Fest title, cooled down in a fierce awards season.
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