Focus Features to Absorb FilmDistrict

     October 2, 2013

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Some major restructuring is taking place at Focus Features.  Universal Pictures announced today that Focus will be absorbing FilmDistrict, with FilmDistrict founder and CEO Peter Schlessel taking over as Focus Features CEO from James Schamus.  The goal is to broaden the types of films that Focus distributes and increase the number of films released to as many as ten films per year.  All FilmDistrict pics released after January 2014 will be absorbed into the new Focus Features.

Focus Features will have only released five films this year—Admission, The Place Beyond the Pines, The World’s End, and Closed Circuit—and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of films the new iteration of the studio will be taking under its wing.  FilmDistrict had long focused on specialty genre films like Evil Dead and Drive, so hopefully the melding of the two studios will make for a fruitful marriage that doesn’t sideline the smaller pics for which Focus is known.  Hit the jump to read the full press release.

the-worlds-end-comic-con-posterHere’s the press release:

Universal Pictures Chairman Donna Langley today announced that the company is evolving Focus Features to maximize its potential by including a greater variety of movies on Focus Features’ film slate. FilmDistrict founder and CEO Peter Schlessel will transition to Focus Features as its CEO as of January, 2014 reporting to Langley. FilmDistrict films set for release after January 2014 are expected to be absorbed into the newly constituted Focus Features.

“The breadth and depth of Peter’s experience in the film business including production, acquisitions, distribution and most recently running FilmDistrict, will be a tremendous asset to Focus Features as the company broadens its portfolio beyond the production and distribution of specialty product,” said Langley. “Peter is one of the most talented executives in the industry and I’m confident that under his leadership, Focus will become even more of a force as the specialty film business continues to evolve.”

Schlessel will be seeking to broaden the types of films that Focus distributes and increase the number of films the division releases to as many as ten films per year. The slate will be populated by a combination of projects developed and produced internally at Focus, as well as films acquired during various stages of development and production. In an effort to establish a closer relationship with Universal’s global distribution and marketing divisions, Focus Features will relocate its headquarters to Los Angeles. In the coming weeks, Schlessel will be putting together the newly reconstituted Focus Features executive team which will be comprised of key leaders from within the ranks of both FilmDistrict and Focus.

Schlessel comes to Focus Features with a portfolio that is tailor made for the division’s evolution and growth. He brings decades of experience in the filmed entertainment industry including the success of FilmDistrict as well as overseeing production and acquisitions at Sony Pictures amongst many other senior leadership positions.

“It is a great honor to be joining Donna and the other talented executives at Universal Pictures,” said Schlessel. “The Focus brand is respected throughout the industry and we intend to build on this while expanding the perception of what constitutes a Focus Features film.”

Current Focus Features CEO James Schamus, who co-founded Focus Features over 12 years ago and is a passionate advocate for specialty film, will leave the company to concentrate on Ang Lee’s next film which he is producing with Lee and developing at Universal. The film is an epic look at the boxing world of the 1960s and 1970s, seen through the prism of its biggest rivalries and greatest fights, including the Joe Frazier-Muhammad Ali showdown known as the “Thrilla in Manila.”

“I have tremendous admiration for James who has grown Focus Features into a premier brand and we are grateful to him for his commitment to Focus and many years of service,” said Langley.

“It’s been an amazing and joyous run at Focus, where our love of film has always been matched by our love and respect for our filmmakers and for each other,” said Schamus. “I wish Peter all the best with the next chapter, and look forward to working with my great colleagues at Universal on Ang’s movie and many more to come.”

Focus Features will release Dallas Buyers Club starring Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner and Jared Leto beginning on November 1 in a platform release pattern beginning in New York and Los Angeles. In a highly competitive acquisitions market at the Toronto Film Festival, Focus also recently acquired worldwide distribution rights to Bad Words in which Jason Bateman stars and makes his feature film directorial debut.

Under Schlessel’s leadership FilmDistrict has established itself as a successful U.S. distributor and acquirer of feature films including the recent blockbuster opening of Insidious: Chapter 2, Olympus Has Fallen, Looper, Evil Dead, Safety Not Guaranteed and Drive among other titles. Upcoming FilmDistrict releases include Oldboy, the Spike Lee directed re-interpretation of the highly-acclaimed South Korean suspense film, on November 27, 2013; That Awkward Moment starring Zac Efron, Miles Teller, and Michael B. Jordan on January 31, 2014; Pompeii starring Kit Harington on February 21, 2014 (which will continue to be distributed by TriStar Pictures); and Selfless starring Ryan Reynolds on September 26, 2014.

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