Breaking News: Focus Features Goes Global

by Anne Thompson
January 15, 2009 3:10 AM
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Rumors have been surrounding various studio subsidiaries and Focus Features is no exception. Here's the breaking story of Focus Features' merger with Universal's International Production Group..

At a time when many studio specialty divisions are under fire, downsizing or shuttering, Universal Picture’s domestic specialty arm Focus Features and its International Production group are combining forces to create a global company, Focus Features. (General Electric-owned Universal recently sold Focus’s low-budget genre label Rogue Pictures to Relativity Media for some $150 million.)

Focus Features CEO James Schamus and Universal Pictures’ International Production prexy Christian Grass announced the merger just as their acquisition teams head to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. “This global company gives filmmakers one-stop shopping with a more global focus,” said Schamus, who admitted that in today’s rough economy, there is strength in numbers. Combined 2008 grosses for the two companies topped $350 million worldwide. “There will be no layoffs,” he said. “All hands are on deck in Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo, Berlin and London. We’re all pulling together, with two substantial and healthy P & Ls.”

Focus Features will continue to run its domestic production and distribution arm, while Grass’s production group will join Focus’s robust foreign sales and distribution company, Focus Features International. Since October 2007, Grass has been producing Universal films outside the U.S., he and Schamus have worked together on several projects, including Cary Joji’s Fukunaga’s Spanish-language thriller “Sin Nombre,” which will launch in the dramatic competition at Sundance, the only film from a studio. Carlos Cuaron’s Mexican hit “Rudo y Cursi,” the first project from cha cha cha, a company backed by Mexican filmmakers Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, is also debuting at Sundance. “Christian and I have so many touchpoints in terms of filmmaker relationships,” said Schamus. “We can flow a huge amount of resources into the international filmmaking culture and bring cross-border success.”

“We were already working closely together,” said Grass, “so we felt we might as well be partners. International production has become this truly global business. It’s about identifying opportunity where it exists. We need to understand local markets and bring an international perspective to a worldwide business.”

Schamus and Grass offer filmmakers around the world a chance to set up, finance, produce, sell or distribute their films either locally or in multiple markets, depending on the commercial appeal of each project. Schamus cited Focus’s comedy thriller “In Bruges,” starring Golden Globe-winner Colin Farrell, as an example of a modest Anglo/Irish production that grossed $7.7 million domestically and another 23 million worldwide. And while Ang Lee’s $15 million “Lust, Caution” was a disappointment stateside, it was a huge hit in Asian markets, with a global gross of $65 million. “Burn After Reading” ($144 million) and “Atonement” ($128 million) were also global hits for Focus. In current release, “Milk” is a strong awards-season contender.

The new team will tailor overseas distribution to each film, which can either go out through various Universal Pictures International (UPI) territories or independently license distribution rights through FFI.



Under the new Focus structure, Schamus continues as CEO of Focus while Grass becomes Co-CEO of Focus Features International. Current Focus prexy Andrew Karpen is now FFI president. Alison Thompson will stay on as International Sales and Distribution prexy, and production chief John Lyons will continue to report to Schamus. Senior v-p Clare Wise, who targets production and acquisitions in all territories outside of North America and the United Kingdom, will continue to report to Grass.

Schamus, who founded Focus with his former Good Machine partner David Linde in 2002, has always shared a global-centric approach with Linde, who is now Universal co-chairman. “By partnering with Christian, I don’t have to explain myself anymore,” Schamus said. “It’s an opportunity for local filmmakers to get on the world stage and gives Focus a chance to find new filmmaking talent and give them a worldwide platform.”



[Originally appeared on Variety.com]

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