EXCLUSIVE: International production veterans Shebnem Askin and Michael Rifkin have been appointed Co-Heads of Sony Pictures International Productions. Reporting to Sanford Panitch, President, Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group, the pair takes over from Laine Kline who stepped down earlier this year.
SPIP is the local-language production arm of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Motion Picture Group and is active in more than 13 markets around the world including France, the UK, Italy, Mexico, Brazil, India, Korea, China, Taiwan, Germany and Japan and is a market share leader in Spain and Russia.
Local-language pictures are an important aspect of the business, key to individual market box office and with the ability to make all boats rise. Some of Sony’s recent notable co-production releases include 2019’s Padre No Hay Mas Que Uno which grossed $15.9M in Spain to become the highest grossing Spanish film that year. The sequel, Padre No Hay Mas Que Uno 2, was released during the pandemic and took in $15.3M, the top title in the market for 2020.
Askin has worked in international production for her entire career and has been with SPIP since 2017 in a production and consultant capacity. During that time, Askin brought in adaptation rights of Italian comedy and box office smash Perfect Strangers for Brazil and Japan. Before joining Sony, she was EVP of Programming at Fox International Channels from 2015-2017 and SVP of Sales & Acquisitions at Fox International Productions from 2009–2015, a period in which FIP produced 44 movies in 12 countries. Askin also served as President of Mark Cuban’s production and distribution company 2929 International from 2004–2008, working on such pictures as George Clooney’s Good Night & Good Luck, Steven Soderbergh’s Girlfriend Experience, We Own The Night and Two Lovers by James Gray and Enron: Smartest Guys In The Room directed by Alex Gibney. Prior to 2929, Askin served as EVP of Sales & Co-Productions of Pandora Cinéma based in Paris.
Rifkin has been with SPIP since its inception in 2015. He began at Sony Pictures in 2011 as a Senior Analyst in the Motion Picture Group working in the business development team. As part of that team he worked on deal analysis and greenlights for Columbia Pictures, Screen Gems, Sony Pictures Animations and Sony Pictures Classics. Over the years, he advanced through the ranks at the company and transitioned to a senior operational role at SPIP in 2015. He oversaw operations and strategy and has been involved in greenlighting over 100 films across 13 territories since starting his role at SPIP.
Says Rifkin, “It is clear over the last several years that local-language productions are becoming a bigger part of the content pipeline for global studios. I am thrilled to be able to help lead SPIP into the future as one of the world’s biggest producers and distributors of local language films.”
Adds Askin, “I am delighted to continue my tenure at SPIP in this new capacity. As the demand for local production continues to grow, I believe we are well positioned to continue to produce more and expand our local productions into new territories, as well as producing films for some of the important streaming services around the world.”
Among SPIP’s other recent successes are Japan’s Kingdom which premiered in 2019 and took in $51.4M, making it one of the highest grossing Sony Pictures movies in the market over the last decade. In Germany, 25 km/h grossed $10.3M and in India Akshay Kumar-starrer Padman debuted at No. 1 and grossed over $14.2M.
Upcoming titles include Spanish horror film La Abuela (October 22, 2021); Alex de la Iglesia’s Spanish film Veneciafrenia (November 2021); the first feature film from “The Fear Collection,” a multi-picture deal and horror film anthology in association with Amazon Prime Video; and Cannes official selections Les Suprêmes (France 2021) and Petrov’s Got The Flu (Russia 2021).
In addition to producing content for theatrical release, SPIP has and continues to produce and co-produce titles for direct-to-streaming including Mexican comedy Guerra De Likes (Amazon Prime Video) and thriller drama Dial 100 in India.