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by Brian Brooks
November 12, 2009 11:33 AM
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Finally Good News! Focus Boasts a Profit and its 2010 Slate

Focus CEO James Schamus, Anna Wintour, Philip Seymour Hoffman and "Pirate Radio" director Richard Curtis Wednesday evening in Manhattan during a special screening of the film in SoHo. Photo Credit: Dave Allocca

Giving a rosy assessment of its year and unveiling highlights for 2010, Focus Features unveiled six movies that will anchor the specialty division's slate next year. The features range from American indies such as Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's ("Half Nelson") "It's Kind of a Funny Story," to what it described as "big international productions" as Anton Corbijn's "The American."

“Next year’s Focus slate follows one of the company’s best years ever – our eighth profitable year in a row since our inception, and the year in which we passed the $1 billion mark in cumulative domestic box office alone," said Focus' CEO James Schamus via a company release Thursday. "“This month’s tremendous showing at the American Film Market once again proves the resiliency and flexibility of Focus’ global approach to the business," added Focus president Andrew Karpen. "The breadth, depth, and nuance we bring to the international release of each film on our slate - and our ability domestically to manage every kind of release, from specialized platforms to wide openings - is what truly defines Focus’s unique approach.”

Focus' news is perhaps a welcome respite from what has been a drudgingly long period of contraction, declining budgets, layoffs, downsizing and closures. The topic of the business of Indie even made it into Time Magazine lately, which painted a nerve-tugging assessment of the industry's downward spiral. While the article correctly pointed to the massive downsizing at Miramax and the closures of Time Warner's specialty outfits New Line and Picturehouse, it was forced to print a retraction of an earlier version of the story that also lumped Focus in with the overall downward trend of the broader business. Time had reported that Focus Features was next to shut down, but later retracted the statement saying it was not properly sourced and reported.

"These days, what's left of journalism if it comes in the form of retraction, I'll take that," Schamus told indieWIRE with laughs half-jokingly. "You can't get too worked up about that stuff - it poisons the air. [At Focus] we're still having fun and making movies with the most interesting filmmakers in the world."

“Focus’ 2010 slate further demonstrates its unique ability to continually develop and deliver some of the best and most compelling specialty films in our industry," said Universal Pictures new co-chairman Donna Langley in the same release, sending out a statement of support for the company. Langley along with fellow co-chairman Adam Fogelson replaced the former heads Marc Shmuger and David Linde at Focus' studio parent, Universal in October. Linde previously served as co-head of Focus before ascending the studio ladder.

Assessing next year's slate, Schamus touted its broad spectrum in an early Thursday evening call with indieWIRE, saying that he looks forward to having American indie filmmmakers' Fleck and Boden's "Funny" on the slate and is excited about doc "Babies." "Non-fiction is not at the center of our business, but we just love 'Babies,'" he said. He also talked up the doc's trailer, which he says has resulted in great word-of-mouth, describing it as "one of the craziest ever." He says that the 2010 list is the core of its releases, but "there's room for more," and still cautiously held open the possibility that it may find a gem as the wave of festivals come around in the new year, including Sundance in January. "As always, our excitement exceeds our appetite, though acquisitions aren't usually an integral part of our business."


Included in Focus Features' 2010 line up (with descriptions provided by Focus):

Noah Baumbach's "Greenberg," starring Ben Stiller and Greta Gerwig ("Hannah Takes the Stairs"). The film opens in select cities March 12.

In the film, Roger Greenberg (Stiller) ends up housesitting at his brother’s home in Los Angeles. There, he "strikes up an unlikely friendship with his brother’s assistant Florence (Gerwig), an aspiring singer. Florence and Greenberg’s encounters lead to an uncertain and wonderfully vulnerable courtship."

Thomas Balmès' "Babies" (opening in select cities domestically April 16 - Focus also has select international rights)

The film simultaneously follows four babies around the world – from birth to first steps. The children are, respectively, in order of on-screen introduction: Ponijao, who lives with her family near Opuwo, Namibia; Bayarjargal, who resides with his family in Mongolia, near Bayanchandmani; Mari, who lives with her family in Tokyo, Japan; and Hattie, who resides with her family in the United States, in San Francisco. Re-defining the nonfiction art form, Babies joyfully captures on film the earliest stages of the journey of humanity that are at once unique and universal to us all.

Anton Corbijn’s "The American," starring Academy Award winner George Clooney opens nationwide September 1.
The American is Mr. Corbijn’s second feature film as director, following the award-winning 2007 drama Control. Focus holds worldwide rights to the suspense thriller, which is currently in production on location in Italy.

Alone among assassins, Jack (played by Mr. Clooney) is a master craftsman. When a job in Sweden ends more harshly than expected for this American abroad, he vows to his contact Larry (Bruce Altman) that his next assignment will be his last. Jack reports to the Italian countryside, where he holes up in a small town and relishes being away from death for a spell. The assignment, as specified by a Belgian woman, Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), is in the offing as a weapon is constructed. Surprising himself, Jack seeks out the friendship of local priest Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli) and pursues romance with local woman Clara (Violante Placido). But by stepping out of the shadows, Jack may be tempting fate.

Academy Award winner Kevin Macdonald's "The Eagle of the Ninth," opening third quarter of 2010, the Roman epic adventure co-financed by Film4 with Focus, which holds worldwide rights excluding U.K. free-TV.

The film is set in the dangerous world of second-century Britain. In 140 AD, twenty years after the unexplained disappearance of the entire Ninth Legion in the mountains of Scotland, young centurion Marcus Aquila (played by Channing Tatum) arrives from Rome to solve the mystery and restore the reputation of his father, the commander of the Ninth. Accompanied only by his British slave Esca (Jamie Bell), Marcus sets out across Hadrian’s Wall into the uncharted highlands of Caledonia – to confront its savage tribes, make peace with his father’s memory, and retrieve the lost legion’s golden emblem, the Eagle of the Ninth. The movie also stars Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong, and Tahar Rahim.

Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck’s "It's Kind of a Funny Story," will open in select cities in November, 2010 with production beginning in New York City next month. Focus holds worldwide rights to the feature, which it is co-financing with Wayfare Entertainment.

16-year-old Craig (to be played by Keir Gilchrist), stressed out from the demands of being a teenager, checks himself into a mental health clinic. There he learns that the youth ward is closed – and finds himself stuck in the adult ward. One of the patients, Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), soon becomes both Craig’s mentor and protégé. Craig is also quickly drawn to another 16-year-old, Noelle (Emma Roberts). With a minimum five days’ stay imposed on him, Craig is sustained by friendships on both the inside and the outside as he learns more about life, love, and the pressures of growing up. Also starring are Viola Davis, Zoe Kravitz, Aasif Mandvi, Lauren Graham and Jim Gaffigan.

Sofia Coppola's "Somewhere," reunites the director with the company that she worked with that produced Oscar-winner "Los in Translation." Her latest film will be released sometime next year. Focus also has select interntional rights to the feature.

The film is the story of Johnny Marco (played by Stephen Dorff), a bad-boy actor stumbling through a life of excess at the Chateau Marmont Hotel in Hollywood. With an unexpected visit from his 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning), Johnny is forced to look at the questions we all must confront.

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2 Comments

  • reassurance | November 13, 2009 9:36 AMReply

    Aren't they also releasing the Serge Gainsbourg biopic 'Vie héroïque' in 2010 as well?

  • Michael Walker | November 13, 2009 8:47 AMReply

    Let's hope they're still around after Comcast buys them.