EXCLUSIVE: Yesterday’s bombshell that caught everyone at Focus Features by surprise has given way to a collective depression among the people at Focus who watched the abrupt exit of their leader James Schamus, and learned Universal will close the Gotham headquarters after incoming head Peter Schlessel arrives in January. There have been speculative reports about what form Focus might take, but before any of that gets sorted, they need to figure out who at Focus will continue to work there going forward. I’m told that those discussions started today with Andrew Karpen, the 10-year Focus vet who was promoted to co-CEO at the Cannes Film Festival. Karpen flew out to the studio for meetings today and I’m told that the studio would like Karpen to stay; the question is whether or not he will relocate his family. Karpen has been a rock star there, and a catalyst in the Toronto acquisition of world rights on the Jason Bateman-directed comedy Bad Words, which, along with the John Carney-directed Can A Song Save Your Life? were the two most coveted acquisition titles and biggest deals at the festival. Karpen has also been involved in Focus’ best Oscar hopeful, the Matthew McConaughey-starrer Dallas Buyers Club, which got stellar notices at Toronto. Schlessel has his own FilmDistrict staff to take care of, but I hope he and Donna Langley appreciate what is a classy staff.
Related: Toronto: ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ Instantly Stakes Claim In Oscar Race
Another I suspect will be a keeper is Jeb Brody, who came to Focus in 2011 from Vendome to take the production president post. I say that not only because he’s good at his job, but because I recently interviewed Fifty Shades Of Grey author EL James, who told me that she absolutely loves the guy who is the hands-on executive on what is expected to be a three and probably four-part adaptation of her racy blockbuster novel trilogy. Actually, what the British author told me exactly was that she quickly realized after meeting him that “Jeb Brody made me laugh and I thought, I could go and have a pint with him.” High praise from a woman who carries some real clout over there right now.
Here’s the official release from Focus Features confirming Deadline’s morning scoop:
TORONTO, September 7th, 2013 – Worldwide rights to the comedy Bad Words, directed by and starring Jason Bateman, have been acquired by Focus Features for a 2014 theatrical release. Focus CEO James Schamus and co-CEO Andrew Karpen made the announcement today at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the movie is having its world premiere.
Bad Words, a Darko Entertainment/Aggregate Films/MXN production, was represented at Toronto by Creative Artists Agency and Hicks Professional Law Corporation, which made the deal with Focus at the Festival. The movie is the feature directorial debut of Mr. Bateman, who last starred in the blockbuster comedy Identity Thief and is currently an Emmy Award nominee for Arrested Development. Mr. Bateman is also a producer of the new movie through his company Aggregate, with Academy Award nominee Mason Novick (Juno) of MXN and Darko’s Sean McKittrick and Jeff Culotta. Andrew Dodge wrote the original screenplay; it is his first to be produced, and it was selected for “The Black List” in 2011.
In the movie, Mr. Bateman portrays Guy Trilby, a 40-year-old man seeking catharsis in his life. He seizes the ideal that this will come for him through…the National Spelling Bee; after discovering a loophole in the rules, Guy zealously joins the competition and easily outpaces the pre-teen field in match after match. As reporter Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn of Afternoon Delight) delves into Guy’s story, Guy finds himself forging an unlikely friendship with a competitor, awkward 10-year-old Chaitanya (Rohan Chand of Homeland), which may spell things differently for his future. Bad Words also stars Screen Actors Guild Award winner Allison Janney, Ben Falcone (Bridesmaids), Rachael Harris (The Hangover), and Philip Baker Hall (Argo).
PREVIOUS EXCLUSIVE, 8:48 AM: Focus Features is making a big acquisition of Bad Words, paying in the vicinity of $7 million for world rights, I’m told. It marks the first big money deal at Toronto. The film marks the directorial debut of Jason Bateman, who stars as a man who discovers a loophole in the rules of the National Spelling Bee. He dominates the pre-pubescent competition with keen spelling skills and and a propensity for trash talking. He forms an unlikely friendship with an awkward boy of Indian descent, and all the while a reporter trails him trying to find his real motivation for disrupting the spelling bee world. Read More »
After receiving mixed critical response in its Venice world premiere, the Kennedy assassination docudrama Parkland took on the Toronto International Film Festival and received a good response for a movie that looks at the events of that fateful day 50 years ago from several different perspectives. Those include a young surgeon operating on the fallen President in the emergency room, Lee Harvey Oswald’s brother and mother, the FBI, Abraham Zapruder and others. Nicely directed by first-timer Peter Landesman, a former New York Times reporter, the film has the sensibility of a journalist and stays close to the known facts while still illuminating. At the premiere’s afterparty at Soho House he told me, “I wanted to create a visual language in the beginning that would allow the audience to feel like what they were seeing was happening and real… I did want to take the audience by hand and bring them into an idea that what they are watching happening is actually unfolding in front of them,” said the veteran who’s covered many international wars. He dismissed potential complaints that the filmmaker might be exploiting the Kennedy tragedy, particularly on the cusp on the 50th anniversary, by explaining that the emergency room scenes were carefully thought out:”I feel like we cut a very dignified movie. To not have any sense of the violence would be to betray what the movie is about. I actually feel that the cut’s dignified. We actually had cuts in the movie that were a lot bloodier. At the end of the day we didn’t want to alienate our audience.”
Landesman said it came about when he originally wrote a screenplay about Watergate for producer Tom Hanks (who produced this film with Playtone partner Gary Goetzman and actor Bill Paxton). That script has yet to be produced. But it led to Hanks handing Landesman a Vincent Bugliosi book written about those four days in November 1963. So he worked on it and researched it for nearly five years and decided there was a movie there that nobody had ever seen. Although Hanks was busy acting on Broadway, he was very involved. “Gary was there for every frame. And Tom was intimately involved with the development of the screenplay and the casting. You know Tom. His integrity is so important, not only as a brand and a producer but Tom’s sensibilities and instincts are so important,” Landesman said. Read More »