Sony Pictures gets ready for a new sensation

MUMBAI: “40 per cent for you, 60 per cent for me. While others promise the world we deliver the earth. Your support has been great and we look forward top continuing this relationship”.

These words were spoken by Sony Pictures Releasing of India MD Uday Singh at a trade gathering with film exhibitors and distributors. SPR unveiled its lineup till October 2007 and the message to the trade fraternity was clear – “Get Ready For a new sensation”.

After all with competition in the market it is important for the firm to reinvent itself. The tagline has been influenced by an INXS song. The Sony lineup culminates with the release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Saavariya next Diwali. This marks Sony’s first co-production effort in India. Singh says that while the company is exploring other possibilities but nothing else has been firmed up as of now.

Singh says that Sony Pictures is looking at a 70 per cent revenue growth. This marks a strong comeback for the company after 2005 which he concedes was a weak year. Compared to 2004 when Sony had Spiderman 2 this year’s revenues are expected to be at least 20 per cent more. This year in each quarter Sony has had at least one big film. It started with The Chronicles of Narnia.

Then the controversy around The DaVinci Code ensured that perople watched the film some of whom wanted to see what the fuss what all about. Then thanks to its distribution deal with Disney in India Sony reaped the benefits of Cars and the second Pirates of The Carribean film. Now the big one for thia quarter is Bond. Daniel Craig dons the mantle of the superspy in Casino Royale which opens in India next month. The trailer which drew the anticipation of the industry gathering sees Bond as cool and yet ruthless. Next year Sony Pictures has three huge tentpole properties. These are Spiderman 3, Pirates of The Carribean 3 and The Chronicles of Narnia 2. Spiderman 3’s trailer shows that perhaps the superhero is being corrupted by the evil that he fights.

There are also other big films lined up for next year including Déjà Vu. This has the potentially explosive teaming of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Tony Scott and actor Denzel Washington. There is also National Treasure 2 with Nicholas Cage returning.

Before that though Cage stars in another big film Ghost Riders which Sony hopes will do well in the first quarter of next year. One film it is hoping will get the families into cinema halls is The Pursuit of Happyness with the ever dependable Will Smith. Heer Smith plays a A struggling salesman who takes custody of his son (played by his son in real life Jaden Smith) as he's poised to begin a life-changing professional endeavor.

The animation segment is also looking strong. This year Sony releases Open Season and Monster House. Open Season features Boog, a domesticated Grizzly bear who finds himself stranded in the woods three days before Open Season. Forced to rely on Elliot, a fast-talking mule deer, the two form an unlikely friendship and must quickly rally other forest animals if they are to form a rag-tag army against the hunters.

Next year Sony releases Ratatouille which has been directed by Brad Bird who made The Incredibles. Ratatouille is all about a rat who dreams of eating gourmet French food. It is not just about blockbusters though. Singh takes pains to point out that Sony Pictures looks at itself as a full media services firm. This means that it shows a wide ranjge from blockbuster action films to animated films to serious films. It is to push serious films better that it started a new unit a few months ago.

The first two films that will be pushed are All The Kings Men and Marie Antoinette. All the Kings Men has a top notch cast including Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet and Sir Anthony Hopkins. It is a remake of an Oscar winning film from 1949. The other film comes from Oscar winner Sofia Coppola and stars Kirsten Dunst who readers might remember plays Spiderman’s love interest. In this film Dunst plays the famous French queen. Through this unit Sony Pictures is also looking to push niche films of other firms that might otherwise fall beneath the radar. The target is the crème de la crème viewer. It is also looking at the possibility of bringing in foreign language films for distribution into the country.

While it is a challenge to convince exhibitors to show these kinds of films Sony is counting on the strong relationships that have been built over the years to help its cause. Singh adds that 10 years ago India was 72 out of 76 global markets for the parent firm on the film front. Today India is close to being a top 10 market. In total by the end of this year Sony would have released around 36 films. 20 would have come from the Sony stable, 10 from Disney and the rest are from other firms.

Another area where Sony has picked up the pace has been in the home entertainment arena. This division was launched a year back. Now it has 200 DVD titles and 225 VCD titles. It released The Da Vinci Code last evening. Other new titles include Click with Adam Sandler as a man who with a remoter control can fast forward his life and Friends With Money with Jennifer Aniston and is about how wealth affects friendship between women. The firm points out that older titles like Mackennas Gold still sell and sometimes do better than the new releases.

Sony also has released the Hindi versions of 80 titles including the Jim Carrey comedy Fun With Dick And Jane. It will release Lawrence of Arabia in Hindi. It also has 20 Tamil dubbed titles. It is looking to expand into the Telugu and Bengali languages with dubbed versions. One key area for Sony here are the direct to video releases. These include sequels that were not released in theatres like Stuart Little 3 and I Always Know What You Did Last Summer. Then it has deals with action stars like Steven Seagal and Wesley Snipes. They make films that go straight to video. Sony has its own manufacturing plant for this.

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