VFT:NY AUG '13 Event ft. James Schamus (CEO of Focus Features)
James Schamus, CEO of Focus Features
The singular global company operates as Focus Features in North America and Focus Features International (FFI) in the rest of the world; and is celebrating its 10th Anniversary in 2012.
An integral contributor to the American independent film business for over two decades, Schamus has the unique distinction of being an award-winning screenwriter and producer who is also a film executive.
Prior to the formation of Focus, Schamus was co-president of the independent film production company Good Machine, which he co-founded in 1991. Schamus and his partners at the company produced over 40 films during an 11-year period, in partnership with filmmakers such as Ang Lee, Todd Solondz, and Nicole Holofcener. Through its financing and distribution arm, Good Machine International, the company represented dozens more filmmakers, among them Pedro Almodóvar and the Coen Brothers. Good Machine was honored with a 10-year retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Schamus is also a screenwriter, and received Academy Award nominations in the Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Song categories for his work on Ang Lee’s "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." The blockbuster Good Machine feature, which Schamus co-wrote and executive-produced, won 4 Academy Awards.
Schamus has had a long collaboration as writer and producer with Ang Lee on eleven feature films, with the director’s "Brokeback Mountain," starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, released worldwide through Focus Features. The film is Focus’ all-time top-grosser, with global ticket sales of over $180 million. "Brokeback Mountain," on which Schamus served as a producer, won, among other honors, 3 Academy Awards; 4 Golden Globe Awards; 4 BAFTA Awards; and the Producers Guild of America’s top prize, the [Darryl F. Zanuck] Producer of the Year Award, Theatrical Motion Pictures.
Lee and Schamus’ other films together include "Lust, Caution" (which Schamus co-wrote and produced, and which won the Golden Lion Award for Best Picture at the 2007 Venice International Film Festival), released worldwide by Focus; "The Hulk" (which Schamus wrote and produced); "Ride with the Devil" (which Schamus produced and adapted); "The Ice Storm" (which Schamus produced and adapted, earning the Best Screenplay prize at the 1997 Cannes International Film Festival as well as WGA and BAFTA Award nominations); "Sense and Sensibility" (which Schamus co-produced); Eat Drink Man Woman (which Schamus co-wrote and associate-produced); "The Wedding Banquet" (which Schamus co-wrote and produced); and "Pushing Hands" (which Schamus produced). The duo’s "Taking Woodstock," which Lee directed and produced and Schamus adapted and produced, was released worldwide in 2009 by Focus.
Schamus executive-produced several Good Machine features that won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, including Edward Burns’ "The Brothers McMullen," Tom Noonan’s "What Happened Was…," and Todd Haynes’ "Poison." Among the other films that he executive-produced at Good Machine are Paul Schrader’s "AutoFocus," Gregor Jordan’s "Buffalo Soldiers," Todd Solondz’ "Happiness," Bart Freundlich’s "The Myth of Fingerprints," Cindy Sherman’s "Office Killer," Nicole Holofcener’s "Walking and Talking," and Todd Haynes’ "Safe."
He is also Professor of Professional Practice in Columbia University’s School of the Arts, where he teaches film history and theory; his published work in the field includes "Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Gertrud: The Moving Word," published in 2008.
Schamus currently serves on the board of directors of Creative Capital. He was the 2006 Presidential Fellow in the Humanities at the University of Chicago, and received his Ph.D. in English from U.C. Berkeley in 2003. He was honored with the NBC Screenwriter Tribute at the 2002 Nantucket Film Festival as well as with the Writers Guild of America, East’s 2003 Richard B. Jablow Award for devoted service to the Guild. In 2010, he received a Career Tribute at the Gotham Independent Film Awards.
Focus’ celebrated releases have included eight more Academy Award winners: Gus Van Sant’s "Milk," Sofia Coppola’s "Lost in Translation" (which grossed over $100 million worldwide), Roman Polanski’s "The Pianist," Fernando Meirelles’ "The Constant Gardener," Mike Mills’ "Beginners," Michel Gondry’s "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," Walter Salles’ "The Motorcycle Diaries," and Joe Wright’s "Atonement"; as well as Henry Selick’s "Coraline," Lisa Cholodenko’s "The Kids Are All Right," Tomas Alfredson’s "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," Cary Joji Fukunaga’s "Sin Nombre" and "Jane Eyre," Joel and Ethan Coen’s "Burn After Reading" (which grossed $155 million worldwide) and "A Serious Man," Martin McDonagh’s "In Bruges," Joe Wright’s "Pride & Prejudice" and "Hanna," Todd Haynes’ "Far from Heaven," François Ozon’s "Swimming Pool," and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s "21 Grams."
One of the world’s leading international sales agents, FFI also encompasses international distribution, marketing and publicity. FFI has the special ability to tailor international distribution to suit each film, whether licensing distribution rights to independent companies, or securing distribution through Universal Pictures International.
FFI distributes up to 10 titles annually, approximately half of which are from Focus’ considerable domestic production/release slate and half of which come from partners across the globe.