In the third-party acquisition business, Sony has long been one of the most active and innovative of the Hollywood studios. Its commitment goes back to the 1980s, when, among other projects, it co-financed Steven Soderbergh's groundbreaking indie film sex, lies and videotape.
Now the studio has revamped its acquisition team with a new name - Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions (Spwa) - and the appointments of international video veteran Adrian Alperovich as senior executive vice-president and general manager, and UK transplant Lara Thompson as senior vice-president of acquisitions. Both executives report to Spwa president Peter Schlessel.
"The name is new, the function is not," says Alperovich, who moves from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, the studio division of which the acquisition team was previously a part.
"This was a function that grew in the 1980s out of the home-video company (RCA/Columbia, which pre-dated Sony's acquisition of Columbia) and its need for product. From the early days, we were always the most active. We were a joint venture, so had a bigger need for product flow."
As a result, Alperovich asserts, third-party acquisition is "woven into the DNA of our entire company".
Spwa has a wide remit that takes in acquiring for a single medium in a single market (the team recently, for example, brought domestic video rights to indie award-winner Half Nelson); acquiring for the world or multiple territories (as the team regularly does with Japanese anime features, such as Paprika and Tekkonkinkreet); and producing (as the team did, in conjunction with Screen Gems, on horror hit Hostel and the upcoming Hostel: Part II). Expanding its horizons, the team has also begun to work with other Sony groups to look for short-form programming for new media and new windows.
"Our goal on any given project is to acquire as much as possible in terms of rights and territories," Alperovich says of his division's acquisition strategy. "The times that we will buy individual or limited territories are either because that's all that's available or because it's something that can only play in certain markets, like a comedy that is only appropriate for English-language territories, say. But our goal is to always have more."
Productions are financed by Sony but made by outside producers. "Most are direct-to-video, but once in a while they're meant for theatrical or will come out so well they're theatrically released. Hostel was one of those."
Product the team acquires or produces is usually released by one of Sony's distribution operations (though Lionsgate is the US theatrical distributor for the Hostel films, with Sony Pictures Releasing International handling international theatrical).
"Our mission is to feed distribution with product they can sell successfully," Alperovich asserts. "All the distribution entities for all the media are our customers and we hope to be close to them and be nimble in the marketplace."
The revamped Spwa team started making buys - before Thompson's arrival - at last autumn's AFM, taking various rights to titles including The Horseman, Razzle Dazzle and Homeland Security. Beyond those deals, they promise the announcement soon of some "pretty significant deals" that will continue Sony's third-party acquisition tradition.
Adrian Alperovich (above) was previously senior executive vice-president of international for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, where he oversaw international business and developed new business strategies, including the launch of DVD and Blu-ray.
Lara Thompson (left) was previously vice-president of acquisitions for the UK's Momentum Pictures, where she was responsible for all acquisitions, including Downfall and Miss Potter. Before Momentum, she was with Working Title and literary agency London Management and Representation.