Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Hollywood Hiccup: Focus Features Loses Its Leader, Will Go Mainstream


The big news in Hollywood today is that James Schamus, the long time head of Focus Features, is out. Universal Pictures removed him and replaced him with Peter Schessel, the man who runs FilmDistrict. This is a signal that Focus, which specialized in art house releases, will be doing more mainstream fare.

Schamus tried valiantly for years to make Focus work. But it was an uphill battle. Too many of their highly touted productions fell short of Oscars or box office success. Movies that missed the brass ring included “Atonement” and “Brokeback Mountain.”

Schamus is something of a genius, a great writer who worked with Ang Lee before starting Focus. But he was not a studio head. His exec partner, David Linde, and then John Lyons, all went by the wayside. Schamus meantime grew in stature by teaching, and by wearing great bow ties. But Focus’s marketing was always an issue. And they have always been hostile to the press.

Schamus will return to working with Ang Lee, and probably win an Oscar down the road for writing a screenplay. Focus/FilmDistrict will probably drop the art house movies and look for genre fare. That will be sad especially for indie filmmakers who counted on them to pick up gems at film festivals.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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