BREAKING: Since forming 11 years ago, Focus Features has been a relative bastion of stability. That will remain so as CEO James Schamus has re-upped for a new term, and Andrew Karpen, president since 2006, has been promoted to co-CEO. Schamus will remain a creative catalyst for the company, while Karpen oversees the global business strategy for the company and will continue to spearhead the company’s digital initiatives. Together, they run all aspects of the company, including acquisitions and worldwide production, marketing, and distribution. Karpen continues to report to Schamus, who hatched the label with David Linde in 2002. Schamus reports to Universal co-chairman Donna Langley.
These are stand-up guys who come to the Croisette with the hottest project in Hollywood, and one which they are not selling here, at least not yet. That’s 50 Shades Of Grey, the adaptation of the steamy novel that has sold 70 million copies worldwide, and which Langley won in a huge multi-million dollar bidding battle, and then placed it with taste-maker label Focus, to be produced by Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca. That project is still forming and while there might be some hot and bothered whispering here at the Croisette (it’s unclear whether its partner, Universal, will let any territories go), the focus here for International head of Distribution and Sales Alison Thompson is on Mike Leigh’s new film, which stars Timothy Spall as the painter J.M.W. Turner; the Asif Kapadia-directed docu on Amy Winehouse; and new Focus titles that the Michael Cuesta-directed fact-based thriller Kill The Messenger with Jeremy Renner, and the Andrew MacDonald-directed undersea adventure film Black Sea with Jude Law. FFI will also world premiere Ruairi Robinson’s thriller The Last Days On Mars, starring Liev Schreiber, Olivia Williams, and Romola Garai in the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight section. READ MORE »
The team behind genre comedies Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz has reunited for sci-fi romp The World’s End. Edgar Wright directs Simon Pegg and Nick Frost along with Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Rosamund Pike in the story of childhood friends who come together after 20 … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: Attention on the long-term brain damage suffered by contact sports stars has primarily fallen on pro football because of the tragic suicides of superstars like Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, both of whom left behind their brains for study … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: As distributors line their coffers with big films for Cannes, Focus Features has grabbed one, acquiring worldwide rights to Black Sea, an adventure thriller that Kevin Macdonald will direct with Jude Law starring. It’s contemporary, and Law will play a submarine captain who is laid off by a salvage company and makes a deal with a shadowy backer to look for a storied sunken sub reputed to be loaded with gold at the bottom of the Black Sea. Since this find would get him even with his ex-bosses, he puts together a crew of English and Russian sailors for the task, taking off to uncharted depths with his motley crew. The closer they get to the prize, the riskier it becomes to trust one another.
Law just starred for Focus Features in Anna Karenina. Film 4 developed, co-produced and is co-financing Black Sea with Focus, and Macdonald has committed to make it next. Macdonald, who helmed the Oscar-winning docu One Day In September and Touching the Void, and who directed The Last King Of Scotland and State Of Play and The Eagle, last helmed the Saoirse Ronan/Tom Holland-starrer How I Live Now and the docu Marley. Focus holds worldwide rights — excluding the U.K. free-TV rights held by Film4, and international sales will begin at Cannes. Macdonald and Charles Steel are producing. Dennis Kelly, who recently authored the book of the acclaimed stage musical adaptation of Matilda, is writing the Black Sea script. Read More »
This was a long-coveted project for actors and directors even before Matthew McConaughey came aboard in May 2011 to star alongside Hilary Swank (Jennifer Garner eventually came on to take the latter role). McConaughey said he lost almost 40 pounds to tell the real-life story of Ron Woodruff, who fought the U.S. medical and pharmaceutical companies after he was diagnosed with HIV in the mid-1980s, when the disease was still mostly without a public face. Focus plans a release for Dallas Buyers Club in the second half of this year — which usually means an awards-season slot. Here’s the release
NEW YORK, April 23rd, 2013 – Dallas Buyers Club, currently in post-production, has been acquired by Focus Features for domestic theatrical release in the second half of 2013. The company has also acquired Latin American rights to the feature. Focus CEO James Schamus and Focus president Andrew Karpen made the announcement today. A Truth Entertainment production, Dallas Buyers Club is produced by Robbie Brenner and Rachel Winter. Spirit Award winner Matthew McConaughey stars in the fact-based drama for director Jean-Marc Vallée (The Young Victoria). The film’s original screenplay is by Craig Borten and Melissa Wallack.
In Dallas Buyers Club, Mr. McConaughey portrays real-life Texas electrician Ron Woodroof, an ordinary man who found himself in a life-or-death battle with the medical establishment and pharmaceutical companies. In 1986, Ron was blindsided by being diagnosed as HIV-positive and given 30 days to live. With the U.S. still internally divided over how to combat the virus and restricting medications, Ron grabbed hold of non-toxic alternative treatments from all over the world by means both legal and illegal. Seeking to avoid government sanctions against selling non-approved medicines and supplements, he established a “buyers club,” which fellow HIV-positive people could join for access to his supplies.
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EXCLUSIVE: Focus Features and Playtone partners Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman are closing a deal to acquire the new Neil Gaiman novel The Ocean At The End Of The Lane. Joe Wright is being attached to direct, and his Shoebox Films partner Paul Webster is coming aboard to produce with Hanks and Goetzman. The film will be a co-production between Playtone and Shoebox.
The Ocean At The End of the Lane will be published in June by William Morrow. According to jacket copy, it’s about about memory and magic and survival, about the power of stories and the darkness inside each of us. The narrator describes a tale that begins when he was seven and a lodger stole the family’s car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and a menace unleashed — within his family, and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. His only defense is three women, on a ramshackle farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang. Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: In terms of awards campaigns for the Best Animated Feature Oscar this year, ParaNorman, a nominee from Focus Features and Laika seems to be the one making the most noise, at least as far as advertising goes. … Read More »
BREAKING: Moments after setting a deal with Random House Studio for Longbourne, Focus Features has locked its third animated movie project with ParaNorman and Coraline partner LAIKA. This one is called The Boxtrolls, which is in production, and Focus will release it October 17th, 2014. Focus has worldwide distribution rights and Universal Pictures International will release the movie overseas (with eOne Distribution handling Canada).
The Boxtrollsis a 3D stop-motion and CG hybrid animated feature based on Alan Snow’s bestselling fantasy adventure novel Here Be Monsters. It’s directed by Anthony Stacchi (co-director of Open Season) and Graham Annable (story artist on Coraline and ParaNorman), and produced by David Ichioka and Mr. Knight. The voice cast includes Oscar winner Ben Kingsley, Toni Collette, Elle Fanning, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Jared Harris, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, and Tracy Morgan.
The Here Be Monsters deal was brokered by Hotchkiss And Associates. Read More »
BREAKING: The Jo Baker novel Longbourn, which tells the Pride And Prejudice story from the point of view of the servants at the Bennett estate, has been acquired for publication by Alfred Knopf in the U.S. and movie rights were acquired by Random House Studio and Focus Features. The novel will also be published this fall by Transworld in the UK and translation rights have already been sold in Spain, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Brazil, France, and Sweden.
Riffing off the Jane Austen tale, Longbourn will highlight the constant chaos swirling downstairs, the preparation for lavish balls, and the housekeeper’s real thoughts about the family patriarch. But it will also reveal the tragic consequences of the Napoleonic Wars and focus on a romance between a newly arrived footman and a housemaid, the novel’s main characters. Read More »
EXCLUSIVE UPDATE, 9:30 AM: Just after Jeremy Renner and Homeland exec producer/director Michael Cuesta came aboard Kill The Messenger, the film has formalized a deal for Focus Features to take worldwide rights. Focus will distribute in the U.S., and Focus Features International’s Allison Thompson will sell foreign in Berlin this week. This development isn’t a shock, considering that Scott Stuber set it up years ago at his home studio Universal, and it is an excellent fit at Focus. The film is about journalist Gary Webb and how his mostly accurate investigative report on how the CIA helped introduce crack to California got the journalist smeared and fired. He eventually committed suicide.
EARLIER, JANUARY 31 PM: The movie packages are coming together on the eve of next week’s Berlin film market. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters star Jeremy Renner has been set to star in Kill The Messenger, a thriller that Michael Cuesta will direct that is based on the tragic tale of a journalist who committed suicide after being smeared by the CIA. The script was written by Peter Landesman. Cuesta seems perfect for this; he’s an exec producer and has directed numerous episodes of Homeland and has been integral in establishing the visual look of that show. He also helmed the pilots for Dexter and Elementary.
Scott Stuber, who set up this project eight years ago as producer at Universal, will be joined by Renner and Don Handfield, and it will be a co-production between Stuber’s Bluegrass and Renner’s The Combine. Naomi Despres is also producing. The film begins production in the summer. Read More »
Peter Kujawski had been at Focus Features since its 2002 formation — helping sell titles like Lost In Translation, Eastern Promises, Enternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and Brokeback Mountain — until moving to Universal as EVP … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: Peter Buchman is set to rewrite Focus Features’ political thriller A Man Must Die for director Gerardo Naranjo. Pablo Cruz is producing through Canana USA.
Based on a true story, A Man Must Die surrounds the assassination … Read More »
The first trailer for Paul Weitz’s Admission has dropped. Tina Fey stars as a Princeton University admissions officer who runs into her former college friend, played by Paul Rudd, during a recruiting visit to an alternative high school which is attended by a boy who might be … Read More »
Not to be outdone by aggressive campaigning from its rivals, Focus Features this week moved boldly ahead with an Oscar campaign plan on two fronts for Friday’s release of Anna Karenina, which had its L.A. premiere last night, and its late-breaking December 28th entry, Promised Land, which is launching its awards bid with some private screenings for some very big heavy hitters.
Regarding the latter film, what do you do when you are the very last major movie of the year? Director Gus Van Sant only delivered the final cut of the film in the past two weeks, and knowing they are under the gun in getting this one seen in time for the earlier Academy voting (now taking place ten days earlier than usual with ballots in the mail December 17 and due back January 3rd), Focus is trying to get the word out within the industry. So before even showing it to most of the press they began an early “influencer” campaign that has featured private screenings and receptions at the plush theatre inside L.A.’s Soho House. Tuesday night Cameron Crowe held one with guests including Meryl Streep, Sam Mendes, Colin Firth, Kate Hudson, Ben Affleck (coming over after getting his GQ man of the year award) and other academy voters who were able to mingle with star and co-writer (with John Krasinski) Matt Damon. Earlier in November Aaron Sorkin hosted a similar screening that drew Demi Moore, Jennifer Aniston and SAG President Ken Howard among others. Read More »
Focus Features has acquired U.S. distribution rights to the Baltasar Kormakur-directed The Deep and the film will be released by its alternative distribution initiative Focus World. The deal was just brokered by WME Global and Focus president Andrew Karpen and execs Avy Eschenasy and Ken Sanderson.
While Kormakur is making a name for himself in Hollywood after remaking his film Reykjavik-Rotterdam into the Mark Wahlberg-starrer Contraband and currently helming the Wahlberg-Denzel Washington-starrer 2 Guns, The Deep is a film he made back home in Iceland. It is the country’s submission for the foreign-language film Oscar and will be released next year. Read More »
Cari Lynn is an AwardsLine contributor
A tale of first love had been knocking around in Wes Anderson’s brain for nearly a decade. But before it became the quirky, cherubic Moonrise Kingdom—which earned Oscar talk after being granted the coveted opening-night slot at the Cannes Film Festival and having gone on to become a crossover boxoffice hit—Anderson struggled with getting the story down on paper. For the better part of a year, all he had was a hodgepodge of ideas: a 12-year-old boy and girl in 1965, a New England island, the feel of François Truffaut’s 1976 film Small Change, and a record playing Leonard Bernstein’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”—but no script.
“When we would chat, I would ask Wes how that island film was coming,” says Roman Coppola, who cowrote The Darjeeling Limited with Anderson and Jason Schwartzman. “A chunk of time would pass, and we’d meet up again, and again I’d ask. It was clear the world, the feeling, the vibe of it was there, but the details were vague. Often when you’re working on a creative thing you have a sense that it exists, but you’re trying to find its form.”
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UPDATE: Universal has just confirmed Deadline’s scoop. I am publishing the release below the original story break.
EXCLUSIVE: In a competition that was almost as heated as the subject matter, Kelly Marcel has been chosen by Universal Pictures and Focus Features to write the script for Fifty Shades Of Grey, the E.L. James publishing phenomenon that has sold 32 million books in the U.S. alone. James had a major say in determining who got to write the script, and she made the choice along with Universal co-chairman Donna Langley (who won one of the most heated book rights auctions in recent memory); the Focus Features production team; and the film’s producers, Mike De Luca and Dana Brunetti.
Marcel got the job off of her script Saving Mr. Banks, the story of Walt Disney’s long courtship of author P.L. Travers’ novel Mary Poppins. That script is being turned into a big movie at Disney, with John Lee Hancock directing, Tom Hanks playing Disney and Emma Thompson playing Travers. Marcel is repped by WME and Casarotto Ramsay & Associates.
Related: Mike De Luca, Dana Brunetti To Produce ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’
Marcel’s work showed an emotional maturity and grace that made the principals believe she was the right choice to write a script that is tricky. While there is steamy sex, and that has helped catapult the book to global phenomenon status, there is an intricate emotional dynamic to the principal characters, the business magnate Christian Grey and the recent college graduate Anastasia Steele. That dynamic is what the studio hopes will fuel at least three compelling films, as the studio also acquired the two follow-up novels Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed. The deal was made back in March for over $3 million. Read More »
Promised Land reteams Gus Van Sant and his Good Will Hunting star Matt Damon in a story about a natural gas conglomerate that descends on a small farming town. Damon and Frances McDormand are the company’s point people who run into plenty of problems once they arrive. … Read More »