Can’t help but think James Schamus receiving the WGA East‘s Evelyn F. Burkey Award for “bringing honor and dignity to writers” is the guild’s way of making sure it thanks the now former Focus Features boss for his years mentoring art house fare from writers like Dustin Lance Black, Charlie Kaufman, Larry McMurtry & Anne Proulx, and Jose Rivera as well as himself (Lust, Caution and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). Shamus was the longtime CEO at Focus before a full rethink of the business at NBCUniversal in October saw him removed and replaced by FilmDistrict’s Peter Schlessel, part of a plan to focus on more mainstream and genre films (at least in part) in the future. One of Shamus’ final films in Focus’ pipeline is Dallas Buyers Club, the kind of film Focus has so successfully shepherded through many an Oscar season. “This film is very important and we have believed in it from the beginning”, Schamus told our Pete Hammond after the movie’s LA premiere October 18. “We are taking this one all the way to the altar, all the way, and I am going to be there for it.” Here’s today WGA East release, which comes a day after it said it would award The Wire creator David Simon with Ian McClellan Hunter Award for Career Achievement during the WGA Awards on February 1:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After two weeks of unimpressive specialty openers, Focus Features‘ Moonrise Kingdom has taken the specialty box office by storm, shattering records over Memorial weekend. Directed by Wes Anderson, the film opened the Cannes Film Festival and then hit theaters in the States, setting a new record for a live-action feature in a regular theatrical run, surpassing Dreamgirls‘ stunning $126K per theater average debut in three theaters back in 2006. Moonrise Kingdom averaged a whopping $130,752 at four locations and an overall four-day $669K gross. Focus, which holds worldwide rights, will take the movie to additional cities in the U.S. each weekend through June, expanding Moonrise Kingdom to several hundred screens. “Moonrise is a story of love’s improbable triumph, and for Wes Anderson and his team a labor of love from start to finish,” said Focus CEO James Schamus. “How wonderful it is to congratulate him, on behalf of everyone at Focus, for this remarkable, record-breaking opening.”
Also opening with gusto, The Weinstein Company‘s The Intouchables, which averaged over $34K in four theaters. This should bode well for the French-produced film. It has had a spectacular run overseas, breaking records in France and grossing well over $300 million to date.
Among other Memorial Day weekend specialty debuts, Samuel Goldwyn’s Cowgirls n’ Angels screened in 50 theaters, averaging a disappointing $1,314, while Adopt Films launched Mighty Fine at 30 locations, averaging a similarly tepid $1,233. A bit stronger were Fisher Klingenstein’s OC87 which bowed at one location, grossing $7,500, while Strand Releasing’s Oslo, August 31st averaged $5,750 from a pair of theaters.
Deadline told you Aug. 15 that Focus Features would name Vendome’s Jeb Brody its new production president replacing John Lyons, who left to produce films and focus on philanthropic pursuits. Focus just made it official. Here’s the release:
LOS ANGELES (August 24th, 2011) – Jeb Brody is joining Focus Features as the worldwide film companys president of production. Focus CEO James Schamus and president Andrew Karpen, to whom Mr. Brody will report, made the announcement today.
Mr. Brody, who begins work next month, will be stepping into the production presidency post being vacated by John Lyons, who is returning to working as a film producer as well as devoting more time to his philanthropic endeavors. While Mr. Brody will be based in Focus West Coast offices, he will oversee the global Focus production team already in place in New York, London, and Los Angeles.
EXCLUSIVE: As John Lyons prepares to leave his production president post to focus on philanthropy, Focus Features top executives James Schamus and Andrew Karpen are in talks with Jeb Brody to replace him. Brody, who is currently president of production for producer/financer Vendome Pictures, is well regarded in the indie sphere. He was a producer of Sunshine Cleaning and was the executive producer of Little Miss Sunshine while he worked at Big Beach. Brody exec produced Vencome’s first two film productions, Source Code and Larry Crowne. Lyons made public his plan right after the Cannes Film Festival.
Lyons is leaving to devote more time to his pet project, the Edible Schoolyard/NYC. He is the founder and board chairman of the charity, which mixes his passion for the environment and growing food at the schools. He will oversee an expansion of the program to schools in the five New York boroughs, and he’ll also continue his work on the board of Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Foundation, which is the national program for the Edible Schoolyard initative. He’s also on the board of GrowNYC, a non-profit that promotes environmental awareness and runs the city’s Greenmarket programs.
EXCLUSIVE: In a post-Cannes surprise, John Lyons will step down from his post as president of production at the end of August. He’s been working on an exit strategy for a little while with Focus’ top execs James Schamus and Andrew Karpen. Lyons wants to return to his producing career, and also spend more time pursuing his philanthropic pet project, the Edible Schoolyard/NYC. Lyon is the founder and board chairman of the charity, which mixes his passion for the environment and growing food at the schools. He will devote more time as the program spreads to schools in the five New York boroughs. Lyons also serves on the board of Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Foundation, which is the national program for the Edible Schoolyard initative, and he’s also on the board of GrowNYC, a non-profit that promotes environmental awareness and runs the city’s Greenmarket programs.
Lyons joined Focus in 2003 and from the Gotham offices oversaw all development and production and the Focus production staff in the New York, L.A. and London offices. He steered films from this year’s Cary Fukunaga-directed Jane Eyre, the Joe Wright-directed Hanna, and past films include the Ang Lee-directed Brokeback Mountain, Gus Van Sant-directed Milk, the Fernando Merielles-directed The Constant Gardener, and the Coen Brothers-directed Burn After Reading and A Serious Man. Also the just wrapped pics: the Paul Weitz-directed adaptation of the memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, with Robert De Niro and Paul Dano, and the Lone Scherfig-directed One Day with Anne Hathaway and Jim Strugess. Focus is just starting production on the Lorene Scafaria-directed Seeking A Friend at the End of the Universe with Steve Carell and Keira Knightley, and are about to get going on the Roger Michell-directed Hyde Park on the Hudson with Bill Murray and Laura Linney and they’re prepping the Wes Anderson-directed Moonrise Kingdom with Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Jason Schwartzman.
At this point, they haven’t figured out how to replace Lyons.
The winners for the 20th Anniversary Gotham Independent Film Awards were announced tonight. The awards organized by the Independent Feature Project already announced the recipients of their honorary awards handed out this evening, including filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, actors Hilary Swank and Robert Duvall, and Focus Features CEO James Schamus. Tonight’s marquee …
Winter’s Bone leads with three nominations – Best Feature, Best Ensemble Performance and Breakthrough Actor. The ceremony will be held on Monday, November 29th, at Cipriani Wall Street. Robert Duvall, Hilary Swank, Darren Aronofsky and Focus Features CEO James Schamus will each be receiving a career tribute.
Darren Aronofsky, director; Mike Medavoy, Arnold W. Messer, Brian Oliver, Scott Franklin, producers (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Derek Cianfrance, director; Jamie Patricof, Lynette Howell, Alex Orlovsky, producers (The Weinstein Company)
The Kids Are All Right
Lisa Cholodenko, director; Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Celine Rattray, Jordan Horowitz, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Philippe Hellmann, producers (Focus Features)
Let Me In
Matt Reeves, director; Simon Oakes, Alex Brunner, Guy East, Tobin Armbrust, Donna Gigliotti, John Nording, Carl Molinder, producers (Overture Films)
Debra Granik, director; Anne Rosellini, Alix Madigan-Yorkin, producers (Roadside Attractions)
New York, NY (September 30, 2010) – The Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP), the nation’s oldest and largest organization of independent filmmakers, announced today that director Darren Aronofsky, actors Hilary Swank and Robert Duvall, and Focus Features CEO, James Schamus, will each be presented with a career Tribute at the