The recent promotion of David Linde to the co-chairman post at Universal Pictures has paved the way for a bit of a re-alignment at Focus Features, the international production, financing, and worldwide distribution label that Linde formed five years ago with Good Machine business partner James Schamus. The company, planning to introduce new leadership at a breakfast for buyers and sellers, is touting what its leaders are calling its strongest slate ever at the Marche du Film. Newly named CEO James Schamus and new company president Andrew Karpen sat down with indieWIRE (with new Rogue Pictures co-president Andrew Rona on the phone from the U.S.) to talk about the company on the eve of Thursday’s Focus industry events in Cannes.
[indieWIRE’s Cannes ’06 Market Daily column is being published in the Cannes Market News print dailies, produced by Le Film Francais and the Marche du Film. 13,000 copies of the English-language publication are available in all festival venues, hotels and throughout Cannes.]
“Clearly, its all downhill from last year,” quipped Schamus, with his trademark wit. After winning multiple Oscars this year with Ang Lee‘s “Brokeback Mountain,” the company is clearly riding high as the Marche du Film gets underway. During the conversation in the company’s bustling Cannes office, Schamus explained that Focus is beginning to publicly establish a new structure in the wake of Linde’s departure, and he added that Focus Features, Focus International, and Rogue Pictures are each finally reaching their creative and ideological possibilities.
“One thing that we have been able to predict is that we (would be) making movies we love,” Schamus said, “And doing our best at getting those films out not only domestically but around the world.” He added, “This is the biggest, most diverse slate in the history of the company.” A particular strength, noted Rona (who was also named co-president of Rogue Pictures), is Focus’ ability to market films with one team, whether they be from their two production arms, or international partners. CEO James Schamus boasted, “There is no company like Focus Features that can provide the scope and scale of filmmakers and filmmaking to the best independent film companies around the world.”
The recent changes at Focus come amidst a continuing shift at other U.S. based entities owned by the Hollywood studios (including leadership changes at both Paramount Classics and recently at Warner Independent Pictures). Asked about the shifts, Schamus explained, “I think what you are seeing is that there is no one single model that determines the maximum approach to specialized markets in a studio-driven environment.”
But at Focus Features, Schamus emphasized, “The mandate still remains absolutely the same, for Focus, Focus International, and Rogue.” He added, “Original and interesting filmmakers tend to do their best work when they are addressing unique and original and audiences. Putting those things together is the challenge.”
Asked to preview the message that he and Karpen would deliver to buyers and sellers at Thursday’s breakfast, Schamus joked that he would say, “You will pay more.” But seriously, indieWIRE asked him, laughing, to detail the message. New Focus president weighed in noting the wide range of films available and added that the company is particularly focused on building its presence in the U.K. But, smiling broadly, Schamus reiterated his message, “You will pay more. Much more.” [Eugene Hernandez/indieWIRE]
Samuel Goldwyn Films and Fox Home Entertainment Team Up for “Conversations with God”
Samuel Goldwyn Films and Fox Home Entertainment will handle distribution for director/producer Stephen Simon‘s upcoming true spiritual story, “Conversations with God,” based on the best-selling series of books by Neale Donald Walsch, the companies announced Wednesday. Goldwyn will distribute “Conversations” both theatrically and on television, and Fox will handle the film’s North American DVD, VOD and pay-per-view release. Capri Films, meanwhile will handle the film’s Canadian theatrical and television distribution. In Cannes, Richard Guardian‘s Lightning Entertainment will represent the film for international sales.
Starring Henry Czerny (“The Pink Panther“) and Ingrid Boulting (“The Last Tycoon“), “Conversations” is the true account of Walsch (played by Czerny), who went from an unemployed homeless man to an “accidental spiritual messenger” and author of the popular book series of the same name. Walsch’s books have sold seven million copies in 34 languages.
“I’m pleased to be bringing this inspirational and moving story to audiences all over America,” commented Samuel Goldwyn Films president Meyer Gottlieb in a statement. The millions of Neale Donald Walsch readers and fans will not be disappointed.”
Goldwyn, Fox and Lightning teamed up on last year’s sleeper hit release, “What the Bleep Do We Know?” which tallied $12 million in its North American theatrical run and has sold nearly 1 million units of DVDs. [Brian Brooks/indieWIRE]
Media 8 to Produce Philip Kaufman’s “Challenger”
Media 8 Entertainment is set to co-produce director Philip Kaufman‘s new film “Challenger” with Code Entertainment and Carol Baum Prods., the L.A.-based entertainment company announced Tuesday. The film examines the investigation into the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and stars Academy Award nominee David Straithairn (“Good Night, and Good Luck.“) as scientist and Nobel Laureate Richard Feyman who led the investigation. “Challenger” will be courting potential buyers for the film`s international rights at this year’s Cannes Film Market.
“This is a fantastic script and it tells an incredibly compelling story–one which most people aren`t aware of,” commented Media 8 Entertainment co-presidents Stewart Hall and Jenna Sanz-Agero in a joint statement. “We are thrilled to be working with Daid Strathairn, who will bring an incredible authenticity and integrity to this role.” [Kristina Woo/indieWIRE]
Sweden’s 1st Vampire Film Set for US, UK and Spain
Swedish sales agent NonStop Sales has sold first-time Swedish director Anders Banke`s film “Frostbite” (Frostbiten) for distribution in the United States, the United Kingdom and Spain. Genius/Wellspring picked up U.S. and Canadian rights, while Soda Pictures took rights for the U.K. and Ireland and Versus Entertainment will handle Spain. The film has already been licensed in Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines, by Rebel Productions while Pacific Marketing is distributing the film in Thailand.
The film is a story about Annika and Saga, a medical doctor and her 17-year old daughter, who have just moved to the snowy Lapland after Annika takes a position at a local hospital. The little town with its seemingly endless polar night appears to be just as boring as Saga thought it would be. Slowly, however, it becomes clear that the sleepy town has a dark secret.
A recipient of this year’s Grande Premio/Best Film in the official fantasy section at the 26th Oporto International Film Festival, “Frostbite” will make its North American debut at the upcoming Seattle International Film Festival and will be released in UK theaters after its launch at London’s Frightfest Film Festival.
“We’re thrilled to be working with NonStop Sales,” commented Rob Williams, acquisitions executive for Genius/Wellspring in a statement. “America will have a great time sinking its teeth into Sweden’s first vampire film.” [Kristina Woo/indieWIRE]
Germany’s Beta Cinema Makes “Salvador” Deal
German-based Beta Cinema has acquired distribution rights to the Spanish Cannes Film Festival entry “Salvador,” directed by Manuel Huerga. The film is screening in the “Un Certain Regard” at the Cannes Film Festival on May 23. Beta Cinema holds the world rights, excluding Spain, where it will be released by Warner Bros. “Salvador” is produced by Mediapro, Jaume Roures Productions and co-produced with Future Film.
Set in fascist-era Spain, the film chronicles the story of prominent underground rebel Salvador Puig Antich, played by Daniel Bruehl, (“Good Bye, Lenin“) against the regime of dictator Francisco Franco. The Spanish-language film tells the story of the young underground freedom fighter Salvador Puig Antich, who fought against the Franco regime in the Iberian Liberation Movement (MIL) and was guillotined in 1974, the last political prisoner in Spain to be executed. According to a release, Huerga views the film both as “an impressive plea against the death penalty” and as the” indictment of a society that is unwilling to confront its past.” [Brian Brooks/indieWIRE]
Argento to Direct Third Installment in “Three Mothers” Trilogy for Myriad
Celebrated horror director Dario Argento (“Inferno“) is set to direct the final installment of his “Three Mothers” trilogy entitled, “The Mother of Tears” for Myriad Pictures, the company’s president and CEO Kirk D’Amico, who will executive produce the project, announced recently. The company is handling worldwide rights to the film excluding Italian-speaking territories.
Co written by Argento along with Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch, “The Mother of Tears” is set in present-day Rome. According to a Myriad release, the film centers on a young American art student, Sarah, who “unwittingly opens an ancient urn that unleashes the demonic power of the world’s most powerful witch. As a scourge of suicides plague the city and witches from all over the world converge on Rome to pay homage, Sarah must use all her own psychic powers to stop the ‘Mother of Tears’ before her evil conquers the world.” Casting is currently underway and the film will begin shooting later this year in Rome.
The film is co-produced by Medusa and Claudio Argento and executive produced by Giulia Marletta. “Suspiria” and “Inferno” were the previous two installments in the trilogy.
“Dario Argento is one of the most expressive stylists in all of cinema,” commented D’Amico in a statement. “With a recent horror revival, this is the perfect time for Dario to unleash another one of his masterpieces on the world.” Based in Santa Monica, CA, Myriad Pictures is involved in financing, production and worldwide sales of motion pictures and television programming. Recent projects include Rowan Woods‘ “Little Fish” and “Kinsey” by Bill Condon. [Brian Brooks/indieWIRE]
Sola Media Scores a Goal with Belgian Football Film
Belgian director Jan Verheyen‘s family football (soccer) drama “Gilles” has signed with German based sales company Sola Media. The recipient of the audience prize at this year’s Plateau Awards, Belgium’s equivalent to the Oscars, the film is the story of Gilles, a talented 12-year-old football player whose life changes after his father (and coach) unexpectedly passes away. Set to find international distribution, Gilles screens for prospective buyers on Saturday, May 20 in Cannes as part of the Flanders Screenings series. [Kristina Woo/indieWIRE]
here! Films Goes “Unfabulous”
here! Films, the theatrical and worldwide sales arm of American gay television network here! Networks, has acquired worldwide distribution rights to “The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green,” a romantic comedy from director George Bamber. The film, based on Eric Orner`s cult comic strip of the same name, will be released by here! Films’ sister company, Regent Releasing, “The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green,” starring Daniel Letterle, will open in select American cities June 16. [Kristina Woo/indieWIRE]
[Get the latest from the Festival de Cannes throughout the day in indieWIRE’s special Cannes ’06 section.]