July 16, 2024

Sony, Like Old Hollywood, Banks on Familiar Faces

As Hollywood has backed away from movie stars as too expensive and too unreliable, Sony has embraced its favorites. On Friday, the studio will open “Friends With Benefits,” a romantic comedy with Justin Timberlake in a leading role. It is Sony’s third film with Mr. Timberlake in less than 10 months, and comes on the heels of his performances in “The Social Network” last October and in “Bad Teacher,” which opened just over three weeks ago.

This month Sony released “Zookeeper,” a comedy, made in partnership with MGM, with Kevin James as the star, a writer and a producer. Next year, it has “Here Comes the Boom” with Mr. James, last year it had “Grown Ups,” and the year before, “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” — in all, four of his latest five pictures.

Sony, whose film operation for 15 years has been run by Amy Pascal, the company’s co-chairwoman, has emerged as perhaps the closest contemporary approximation of a classic studio. Its movies change, but those who make them remain remarkably consistent, thanks to personal relationships and shared tastes that have largely supplanted the rigid contractual arrangements that allowed Mayer to build an empire around the likes of Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, Lionel Barrymore and Clark Gable.

Of the Sony films released in 2011, the studio reckons that all have involved filmmakers or stars with whom it has worked repeatedly.

Adam Sandler and Will Smith, two of Sony’s most reliable suppliers, both have a film on tap in the next year. Mr. Sandler, 16 of whose latest 21 films have been at Sony, next has “Jack and Jill,” a comedy set for release in November.

In May, Mr. Smith stars in “Men in Black III.” It will be the eighth time he has landed at Sony in his last 10 films (putting aside voice work and a cameo elsewhere).

“It gives us stability,” Ms. Pascal said.

This kind of stability is rare in Hollywood, where there has been a decline in the number of production deals. Instead, studios are focusing on core relationships.

Thus, Universal Pictures has worked repeatedly with Judd Apatow, who has directed three movies there since his debut with “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” in 2005, and Warner’s relationship with Clint Eastwood has lasted decades.

But few have matched the breadth or consistency of relationships at Sony, where Dennis Dugan, the director of “Jack and Jill,” has made nine of 10 pictures since 1997, including “Don’t Mess With the Zohan.”

“It’s Hollywood, it’s still whom you know,” said Peter Dekom, an entertainment lawyer. The arrangement has been steadily, if not always hugely, profitable.

In its latest fiscal year, which ended March 31, Sony Pictures contributed $7.3 billion, or about 8 percent, of $87 billion in total revenue for its parent company in Japan, the Sony Corporation. In addition, about 78 percent of the unit’s reported $466 million in operating profit for the year came from two television transactions.

But for many in contemporary Hollywood — where virtually everyone is suffering from the decline in home video revenue — the goal is not so much to score huge profits as to stay in the game until presumed new revenue streams grow from quickly evolving digital technologies.

At Sony, that has meant finding a comfort zone in which executives can work regularly, and often economically, with a core group of stars and filmmakers who consistently earn their keep, even if their pictures do not often challenge the more expensive animated and effects-driven blockbusters at the box office.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 17, 2011

An earlier version of this story misstated the movies made by Dennis Dugan for Sony. “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” a movie directed by Mr. Dugan, was made by Universal Pictures.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=fe9d69947ce0b61be9a41bbeda6cd739

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