October 2, 2013 at 1:31 pm #113779
James Schamus has run Focus since he was dumped at the main studio, and been instrumental in their recent run of films over the last decade, both from his oversight at Univ and specifically at Focus.
He is being replaced by Peter Schlessel, who now runs FilmDistrict, recently known for Olympus Has Fallen and Insidious.
This is not good news for quality film.October 3, 2013 at 4:26 pm #113781
Focus Features Shake-Up Means Another Arthouse Indie Bites the Dust
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Peter Schlessel will bring a different ethos to the division that brought us “Brokeback Mountain” and “The Pianist”
With the ouster from Focus Features of longtime indie studio chief James Schamus, Hollywood loses yet another arthouse-oriented studio, to be replaced – most likely – by a specialized division that will focus on genre movies more to the liking of Peter Schlessel, who is taking over.
The move is less than ambiguous. Universal is shutting the New York Focus office, where Schamus is based. The fate of the Los Angeles team is unclear, but it is clear that Schlessel will be merging his 45-person staff at FilmDistrict with Focus.
This means the team behind “Brokeback Mountain,” “Anna Karenina,” “The Pianist,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Moonrise Kingdom” goes away.
And the team behind the formation of Screen Gems, best known for the successful “Resident Evil” franchise, steps in. The likelihood is that Schlessel, a veteran studio executive and producer, will focus on what makes money: horror, thriller, action, comedy and urban genres.
That’s what he did both at Screen Gems and at FilmDistrict.
There is certainly nothing wrong with that. But it is to be regretted that Hollywood loses another precious platform for the kind of arthouse film that makes up the lasting fabric of American cinematic culture. That leaves among the major studios only Fox Searchlight and Sony Pictures Classics as bastions still nurturing movies that are more difficult for some – like this year’s “12 Years a Slave” – but enduring.
I’m not sure if Universal is saying they give up on those kinds of movies. But Focus failed to turn a profit last year — the first time since its founding that has happened. Despite releasing a string of well-received movies, it has not won an Oscar since 2008. Most producers and executives described it as less active than at any time in recent memory.
Focus was formed from the 2002 divisional merger of USA Films, Universal Focus and Good Machine. Schamus and David Linde created Focus in 2002 with complete autonomy from its parent company, empowering directors such as Ang Lee, Spike Jonze and Steven Soderbergh.
Some say this is about Donna Langley, Universal Pictures’ new chairman, asserting her power and extending it over what was once an independent fiefdom.
“This is something Donna has had in the works for a while,” an individual close to the situation told TheWrap. “She spent time with that business trying to make it more competitive.”
Lucas Shaw contributed to this report.October 3, 2013 at 5:58 pm #113782
This makes me really sad. Focus was never able to get a Best Picture. I don’t foresee this studio’s future continuing with the same tenets that definited its establishment and what made it stand out.October 3, 2013 at 6:07 pm #113783
Focus, and the company that proceeded it USA, three times won best director and best screenplay (as well as acting for two of the films, editing for two of them) and didn’t win BP. Talk about bad luck. (Traffic, The Pianist, Brokeback Mountain).October 3, 2013 at 6:17 pm #113784
It was kind of a wannabe Miramax, but not quite Miramax. Actually Donna Gigliotti from Miramax/Harvey ran USA Films for a few years. I remember seeing Schamus’ face when Jack Nicholson came out to present Best Picture in 2006. He was laughing, he looked like he was about to win an Oscar he was so happy. And then…LOL. I don’t think Schamus had the push and shove power that others have had to really rally voters to his films. Maybe he was too much the academic and not enough the businessman?October 3, 2013 at 6:22 pm #113785
It is a pity they couldn’t have just sold it to another studio. It is going to be sad seeing the Focus label slapped on crap.October 3, 2013 at 6:26 pm #113786
Sony and Fox have their own companies already. Paramount, Disney and Warners ditched theirs. Lionsgate has Roadside Attractions (half ownership).
There is no one to sell it to.October 3, 2013 at 6:35 pm #113787
They could merge. In effect, they will anyways. The talent that Focus currently has is probably going to flee to those companies. But the team that created it is dead without a buyout or a merger. Only the name remains to remind people of the past. A good merger for me would have been with IFC Films (owned by AMC).
Edit: Oh, and just to be clear on my IFC comment, I know that IFC is just a distribution company. But merging a production & distribution company like Focus with it would probably have been a clever move for AMC (if they could have had the option), especially given their recent advance in status.October 3, 2013 at 6:47 pm #113788
Another good merger/buy would be Netflix. Netflix is awash in cash right now and they are trying to jumpstart original programming.October 3, 2013 at 7:45 pm #113789
…which they can get directly from producers and have as their own brand. Focus exists as a distribution/marketing company for theaters and DVDs. Netflix has no use for that.
I applaud your enterprise – this personally affects me. Two of my closest friends in the industry are high level Focus execs in NY likely out of jobs because of this, and totally shocked by it. But I just don’t see this happening.