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Their Motto: Think Small

Sony Pictures Classics releases only films its co-chiefs like. (Gasp!)

March 29, 1998|Jack Mathews | Jack Mathews is the film critic for Newsday

"Marcie had stayed in touch with the producers throughout, and when we heard the film was out of the lab and about to be screened for the first time, I rushed over there. After the screening was over, I walked 20 paces to an outside cafe, sat down with the producers and made the deal."

On another occasion in Paris, Bernard caught an early screening of Jean-Paul Rappeneau's French version of "Cyrano de Bergerac," without subtitles, and immediately convened a telephone conference with his partners in New York.

"Tom said, 'I didn't understand a word of it, but it's one of the greatest things I've ever seen,' " Bernard recalls. "We bought it right away."

The Sony team say that once they see a movie they agree they want, it usually takes less than half an hour to come up with a price.

"When we evaluate product, how we're going to sell it, where it's going to play, what it's going to cost to release, we can go sit in a room for about 20 minutes and pretty much know its value," Bernard says. "We'll make an offer. . . . If it's not enough for the filmmaker, we move on."

Adds Barker: "I don't think we'd be in business if the movie went to the highest offer every time. Many times, we're not the highest bidder, but because of overages [profit shares], people can make more money with us. We paid $1 million for 'Howards End.' I know Merchant Ivory had offers as high as $5 million, but they went with us knowing they'd make more on overages, and they did."

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