Insidious: Chapter 2 opened to a record-setting $41M in September, and now we know when the next installment of the franchise will arrive. With FilmDistrict — which released 2010′s Insidious and the sequel — having been absorbed into Focus Features, the …
Fans of the global bestseller will have to wait longer than planned to see Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) come to life on the screen. Universal Pictures and Focus Features’ have pushed the release …
BREAKING: Peter Schlessel, who took over Focus Features after Universal swallowed his FilmDistrict label, has begun assimilating the staffs of those two companies for January’s company relaunch. This happens a day after the company formalized the widely expected news that Focus Features International would shutter. More of this mixing and matching will happen over the next few weeks, and we’ll get a sense of the final layoff count soon. For now, here’s who is staying:
· FilmDistrict’s Beth Lemberger will be EVP Business Affairs, joining Howard Meyers who is currently EVP Business Affairs, Production at Focus Features. Both executives will report to Schlessel. FilmDistrict’s Kevin Monroe will also serve as SVP Business Affairs for Focus reporting to Lemberger.
Word has just gone out internally that Focus Features International is shuttering in December. There were 16 people who worked there, most of them will be out of jobs, and the London office is closing by year’s end. This …
Deadline’s sold-out award season kick-off The Contenders unspooled Saturday at the Wallis Annenberg Center For The Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. Take a look at our special guest panelists from this year’s crop of Oscar hopefuls from …
It was a big — and emotional — Thursday night for the old Focus Features as their Oscar hopeful Dallas Buyers Club had a very well-received Los Angeles premiere at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The movie, which had a rocky road just getting to the screen, brought strong response both for the film and at the beginning, when the Focus Features logo came up on screen greeted by an unusual burst of applause. It was undoubtedly a show of gratitude for the memorable lineup of movies the company, which is now undergoing a major transformation and apparent change of mission, has turned out since 2002 when it was formed out of remnants of USA Films, Universal Focus and Good Machine. Longtime Focus head James Schamus, who was suddenly replaced two weeks ago as CEO by FilmDistrict’s Peter Schlessel, held court in the lobby afterward for what he told me was their “last hurrah”. In a classy move, Schlessel stayed away from the premiere, letting Schamus and his team have the spotlight for the Oscar-touted movie that could represent the end of a great art house era for Focus — a company which may be focusing on more mainstream and genre films (at least in part) in the future.
Schamus was soaking in the praise and taking it all in stride, telling me, “This film is very important and we have believed in it from the beginning. We are taking this one all the way to the altar, all the way, and I am going to be there for it.” We both recalled that he started telling me about the special nature of Dallas Buyers Club at Cannes in May. ”I get the same feeling I got 11 years ago when we saw The Pianist take off, ” he said about the underdog 2002 Roman Polanski-directed movie that won three major Oscars and almost took Best Picture (Chicago squeaked it out, but likely very narrowly). Outgoing marketing head David Brooks also was upbeat about the reaction to the film last night, but acknowledged it was a little bittersweet. The film represents the kind of movie Focus has so successfully shepherded through many an Oscar season. Outgoing co-CEO Andrew Karpen was among other Focus execs in attendance along with parent company Universal’s Ron Meyer, Donna Langley and newly installed chairman Jeff Shell who took over for Adam Fogelson last month.
Mike Fleming Jr reported earlier this month that while Focus Features co-CEO Andrew Karpen was asked to stay at the restructured Universal specialty division, it was just as likely he’d depart after not wanting to uproot his family from NY to LA. Now Universal has made his departure official today in announcing the new exec suite under new CEO Peter Schlessel. Karpen will stay on during the transition. Among those staying put is Jeb Brody, who will keep his President of Production title. Here’s the release:
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA, October 15, 2013—Focus Features today announced the leadership team for the newly reconstructed division under incoming Focus Features CEO, Peter Schlessel. Focus’ new leadership will be comprised of key executives from within the ranks of both Focus Features and FilmDistrict. Today’s announcement supports Schlessel’s mandate to evolve the Focus Features strategy to maximize potential by diversifying and expanding its film slate to include a greater number of specialty and wide release films.
“I am pleased to announce the executive management team that will help me lead Focus Features into its next chapter,” said Schlessel. “These executives will work with me in the coming weeks to round out the balance of our staffing needs for the company.”
Within this newly realigned structure:
· Adrian Alperovich will become Focus Features’ new Chief Operating Officer. He currently serves as FilmDistrict’s COO.
· Christine Birch, who is currently President of Marketing at FilmDistrict, will join Focus as President of Marketing.
· Focus Features President of Publicity and Executive Vice President of Marketing, Adriene Bowles, will retain her current title and responsibilities.
· FilmDistrict’s Jim Orr will lead Distribution as President.
· Focus’ President of Production, Jeb Brody, will retain his current title and responsibilities.
· FilmDistrict’s Lia Buman will be President of Acquisitions at Focus Features. Buman and Brody will work together to shape Focus’ slate.
EXCLUSIVE: Sony Pictures Soon Latest Studio Closing Big Co-Financing Film Deal
By Nikki Finke — EXCLUSIVE: All of the Sony parent company brass from Japan including Kazuo Hirai are in Culver City this week for meetings to discuss among other things the film studio. Finally, here’s some good news for Amy Pascal et al. I’ve learned that Sony Pictures is in the process of closing a rich co-financing deal.
SHOCKER! Peter Schlessel Takes Over Focus Features
By Mike Fleming Jr. — The news that Universal dropped another bombshell today and announced that James Schamus would leave as head of Focus Features has left everyone at that boutique label reeling. But it hits the company’s New York staff hardest.
Focus Features Day 2: Who’ll Stay?
By Mike Fleming Jr. — 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.
After Eight ‘Harry Potter’ Hits David Heyman Follows Up With ‘Gravity’ – This Time He May Finally Be Going To The Oscars
By Pete Hammond — With Gravity looking like it is soaring at the box office today and the Harry Potter 8-pack of films successfully behind him, producer David Heyman is riding high. Of course, director Alfonso Cuaron and stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are getting the lion’s share of attention for the space drama, but Heyman is happy to give credit where credit is due.
EXCLUSIVE: The new mandate at Focus Features seems to be commercial fare with meaty roles. Here’s a deal made before this week’s shakeup that fits that bill. Focus acquired screen rights to Circle Of Treason: A CIA Account Of Traitor Aldrich Ames And The Men He Betrayed. The book was written by Sandra Grimes & Jeanne Vertefeuille. Barry Josephson is producing through his Josephson Entertainment banner. Adam Schneider is co-producing. Anne Waterhouse & Joe Shrapnel will write the script.
The movie is a dramatic thriller based on real events in the late 1980s and early ’90s in which sounds like Zero Dark Thirty-like dogged hunt for a CIA traitor. The authors methodically took down America’s most notorious traitor, and had to battle against the CIA’s institutional hierarchy and chauvinism to do it. Vertefeuille, who passed away, rose in the CIA from the position of typist to taking foreign postings in places like Ethiopia, Finland the The Hague before working in counterintelligence. That’s where she met Grimes.
After seeing how a coterie of agents and assets — some they knew personally — were assassinated or imprisoned in the Soviet Union, they became convinced there was a mole in their midst. The movie is the methodical hunt that brought down Ames, who received millions of dollars for his treachery and nearly got out of the country before he was caught.
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 …
EXCLUSIVE: The news that Universal dropped another bombshell today and announced that James Schamus would leave as head of Focus Features has left everyone at that boutique label reeling. But it hits the company’s New York staff hardest: …
BREAKING: Another shoe has dropped at Universal Pictures, as former top Sony exec Peter Schlessel has taken the reins of its prestige film label Focus Features in an effort to beef up the company’s output. James Schamus, the bow-tied erudite writer/producer who has run Focus, will leave to produce the 3D boxing movie that will be directed by his regular collaborator, Oscar winning Life Of Pi director Ang Lee. FilmDistrict, which was launched by Schlessel, Graham King and Tim Headington, will have its films absorbed into the new Focus Features. Focus has always had a strong executive team and a good record of profitability under Schamus and Andrew Karpen’s leadership–they won world rights for $6 million for one of Toronto’s most coveted films, the Jason Bateman-directed Bad Words–but it is too early to say what the new structure will be until Schlessel gets settled in January. He will report to Donna Langley, who became Universal Pictures chairman in the recent shakeup that left Adam Fogelson packing, and Jeff Shell in command at the studio with Ron Meyer becoming vice chairman of NBC Universal.
This is a big opportunity for Schlessel, by all accounts a nice guy but who is hardly a pushover. He was very instrumental in talent and other deals at Sony and has always been considered a sharp dealmaker who now gets even further involved on the creative side as Focus seeks to ramp up its output. Langley has been working quite closely with Focus after she emerged with the deal to make a film trilogy from the EL James blockbuster novel Fifty Shades Of Grey, which has been supervised by Jeb Brody. Deadline was first to reveal in August that Lee would make the epic look at such great boxing matches in the 60s and 70s, including the Thrilla In Manila bout between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. It is a way for Lee to continue his transformative work in the 3D ring. Peter Morgan is writing the script for that film at Universal.
BREAKING: Andrew Dosunmu will direct Focus Features’ drama with music Fela Kuti, which is currently in development. Focus CEO James Schamus and co-CEO Andrew Karpen announced the hiring. This is the film that has been developed with Chiwetel Ejiofor attached to star, and while a deal hasn’t gone down and nothing is definitive, he is hot stuff coming off the lead role in 12 Years A Slave. The film is separate from the Broadway musical. Focus has its own feature rights package that include Fela’s music, rights gathered by producers Lydia Pilcher and Leigh Blake.
Fela, considered Africa’s answer to Bob Marley, is as famous for his Afrobeat musical style — a fusion of jazz, funk and West African drums — as he was for speaking out against government oppression in Nigeria. He was a larger-than-life figure, had 27 wives, and his outspoken nature proved costly when his house was raided and his 78-year-old mother thrown to her death from a second-story window. He deposited the coffin on the steps of the Nigerian leader’s home.
Dallas Buyers Club, one of the most anticipated films of the year and certainly this Toronto International Film Festival, made its debut Saturday night to a standing ovation. Star Matthew McConaughey lost tons of weight in order to convincingly play Ron Woodroof, an early victim of AIDS who extended his life by illegally pioneering into the world of drugs designed to stem the disease. With much advance Oscar buzz for the Focus Features release, Dallas Buyers Club recently moved into early November from its original December release date. There was heavy anticipation not only for Saturday night’s 10 PM screening but also earlier when I caught it at a morning press showing. Bottom line: It does not disappoint and contains the expected Oscar-caliber performance certain to finally gain a Best Actor nod for McConaughey – and also a surprising turn from Jared Leto, just superb as a transsexual AIDS patient who befriends Ron. It would seem an absolute no-brainer that both will be sitting front and center come March 2nd at the Dolby Theatre when Oscar winners are announced. If there are two better performances by anyone this year I have not seen them.
At the Ciba restaurant late night party following the screening, Focus Features President James Schamus was beaming. Not just from the reaction to Dallas, but also because he pulled off a coup at dawn (he told me) sealing the deal for the hilarious and well-received Jason Bateman directorial debut Bad Words. It went for $7 million – a steal considering the potential of this R-rated comedy I predicted would sell in a minute. Universal‘s Ron Meyer, Adam Fogelson and Donna Langley were also celebrating that coup and the success of their specialty division’s Dallas triumph. But this night belonged to the cast and crew, especially McConaughey whom Schamus told me at May’s Cannes Festival was delivering ”the performance of a lifetime”. This was a project, according to producers Rachel Winter and Robbie Brenner, that took nearly 20 years to bring to the screen. A good chunk of that was made of the blood, sweat, tears and never-say-die tenacity of Brenner who said she just kept pushing that Dallas rock up the hill no matter what the odds.
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.
EXCLUSIVE: Focus Features has found a writer for Longbourn, the period pic based on the novel that reimagines Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice from the point of view of the servants at the Bennet family estate. Angela Workman has come aboard to adapt the Jo Baker novel that Focus acquired rights to in February to co-produce with Random House Studio. The book is set to be published this fall by Transworld in the UK, Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S., and Random House in Canada. Workman, repped by Gersh and UK-based Sayle Screen, is no stranger to the adaptation game. Her credits include Snow Flower And The Secret Fan, based on the Lisa See novel, and she wrote the script based on Diane Ackerman’s nonfiction best-seller The Zookeeper’s Wife for Annapurna Pictures. She also penned the historical tale Bronte for DreamWorks, and she is just wrapping work on an untitled biopic of Depression-era photojournalist Dorothea Lange.to be produced by David Fincher and directed by Leslie Dektor.