Magazine article Screen International

Independent Streak

Magazine article Screen International

Independent Streak

Article excerpt

Steve Bersch leads the formidable Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions team, which has made its mark on numerous indie hits in recent years. He tells Screen what they will be looking for at Toronto.

Many of the independently made US hits of the last several years, including District 9, Insidious, Hanna and Soul Surfer, bear the hallmark of Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions (SPWA). The unit has earned a reputation as a shrewd operator and is now well positioned to take advantage of the buoyant market.

SPWA is tasked with picking up a wide range of genres at varying budgets for the Sony pipeline: be it Sony Pictures, Sony Classics, Screen Gems or TriStar. It also has distribution relationships with, among others, Samuel Goldwyn Films, Strand Releasing and FilmDistrict, the new distributor led by SPWA president Steve Bersch's predecessor Peter Schlessel that has close ties to Sony and collaborated to great effect with SPWA on its first two releases, Insidious and Soul Surfer.

Given that Paramount and Warner Bros have recently exited the international acquisitions arena, SPWA's standing as a nimble buyer with its pulse on the market has only served to boost its value to the studio. "Sony has a full roster domestically and internationally," says Bersch, a former entertainment attorney who arrived at the unit in 2008 and has held senior executive positions at five US majors. "Our job is to supplement it on pictures that make sense.

"We are in very close communication with the studio. We go to festivals with the authority to conclude deals at a certain level and we can always arrange for something to be screened by movie management the next day."

The high-profile acquisition of Insidious at Toronto last year involved a level of commitment that meant Bersch and his team could move quickly without the need for protracted talks with the Los Angeles head office.

"We try from a domestic and international level to find product we believe in and we believe will work commercially and match it with the right distribution strategy. It's often Sony. Recent titles like Hanna went through SPRI [and Focus Features domestically, in a separate deal]. Soul Surfer went through TriStar domestically, but in a marketing partnership with FilmDistrict. …

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