Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Dana Harris
August 23, 2011 4:29 AM
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Focus Features Launches VOD Premiere Label Focus World

Focus Features' VOD label, Focus World.

Seven months ago, Focus Features launched its VOD label, Focus World. However, there was no announcement; instead, they just released the movies.

There's four titles so far; the most recent is Sundance award-winning documentary "Resurrect Dead," which dropped Aug. 1. The first Focus World title arrived in February with the Russian film "Black Lightning" (a kid receives an old car from his father, becomes a superhero after discovering that the car can fly); and Brazilian film "Adrift" (a teen has her sexual awakening as she discovers her father's infidelities), which was released in May.

Focus World plans to release somewhere between eight to 15 VOD premiere titles a year, with the goal being one per month. While that pales next to, say, the output from the various labels of IFC Films, it's a real operation, one that's overseen by Focus' executive VP Avy Eschenasy and worldwide marketing president David Brooks.

New buyers in the marketplace are always a happy story; so is VOD commitment from one of the major players of independent film. The films are available across virtually every platform. So why the label's low profile?

One reason is familiar to any evolving concept: Stay out of the limelight and you can figure things out as you go. Another reason: In the current economy, no one can afford to take their eye off what makes the money and at this point, VOD is promising but still unproven. Drawing attention to it had very modest upside potential and a more significant downside. Better to wait until someone called asking why "Resurrect Dead" was on iTunes.

As creative ideas go, the risks on this one have been well mitigated. Focus, of course, is owned by Comcast/Universal. Focus World releases include foreign-film titles financed by Universal International ("Black Lightning," "Adrift"). And if you find "Adrift" on Comcast, you'll see it next to curated Focus titles about thwarted love such as "Brokeback Mountain," "Far From Heaven," "My Summer of Love" and "Swimming Pool." (Jokes Eschenasy, "I think that's a whole genre for us.")

However, Focus World is also a way for Focus execs to release movies they love, but can't justify to their theatrical business. There's no way Focus Features can give a theatrical release to a film like "Resurrect Dead." No matter how much they love the movie, or how many awards it receives.

Focus World isn't the first expression of this philosophy. Last month, Schamus spoke to Brian Brooks about Story Camp, Focus' three-day workshop and lab for six emerging filmmakers and producers, each of whom are working on projects budgeted under $1 million.

Discussing how Focus Features concentrates on titles that can bear global exploitation, Schamus said, "We have an extraordinary core of young executives at Focus whose culture is linked to independent cinema. I’m sure there’s some frustration because they [usually] have to see all these great films at festivals and say, “Well, maybe on your third film we can do something.”

Said Eschenasy, "I've been in this business for 20 years and it was thrilling for me to make an offer on 'Resurrect Dead.'"

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  • jennifer | May 21, 2012 10:50 AMReply

    -am not quite sure where this EM is going...but,..am trying to send this to Jeb Brody of Focus Features production...
    --an idea for his up coming movie...50 shades of gray...
    ---Armie Hammer and is wife Elizabeth Chambers(think she is an actress,..) to be cast for---Christian and Ana ---sooo perfect.....they so fit the bill...JMHO..
    (cant believe am spending soo much time on this stuff)..
    hope,..he reads this..

  • mary | August 25, 2011 6:52 AMReply

    You have your points, Dana. That said, Focus Features had also released some of their less commercial films theatrically through Strand Releasing. (ie. "It's All About Love", "The Secret Life of Words")

    BTW, Focus Features had released “Adrift” and “Black Lightning” on DVD in US.

  • Dana Harris | August 25, 2011 5:12 AMReply

    Hi, Mary. I don't think that's exactly right. I think it was clear from the get go that Adrift and Black Lightning were far from sure bets for the US market, as most foreign language films are. Pre-VOD, they might have surfaced on DVD in the US or they might not have shown up at all. And the odds of Focus putting a Mike Leigh film to a VOD-only release... sort of like the odds of me walking from our LA to NY offices. Technically possible but unlikely in the extreme.

  • mary | August 25, 2011 3:56 AMReply

    Dana -

    Thank you for your infos!

    FFI had financed "Another Year", “Adrift” , "Black Lightning" and FFI had world rights of those films.

    After FFI had failed to sell “Adrift” and "Black Lightning" to US distributors, Focus Features sent both films to Focus World VOD.
    So it seems like that Focus Features could also release "Another Year" through Focus World VOD if FFI hadn't sold "Another Year" to an US distributor.

  • Dana Harris | August 25, 2011 2:30 AMReply

    Mary, that's not entirely accurate. Another Year was handled by Focus International, which sells off foreign and domestic rights. It's run as a business in its own right. Certainly, it's plausible that Focus Features had right of first refusal, but FFI holding world rights on a project doesn't necessarily mean that they intend for it to get domestic distribution through Focus Features.

    And yes, as I point out in the article, "Adrift" (as well as Black Lightning) were financed by FFI.

  • mary | August 25, 2011 1:51 AMReply

    Ryan -

    Focus Features International (the foreign sales division of Focus) sold the US rights of "Another Year" to Sony Pictures Classics. It proved that Focus Features had the US rights of "Another Year".

    BTW, “Adrift” was also financed by Focus Features International, and that film wound up to be released through Focus World VOD .

  • Ryan | August 24, 2011 12:52 PMReply

    Mary - You don't seem to have all your facts straight. Focus Features never handled the domestic rights to "Another Year." They only had International.

    I applaud Focus for offering another outlet for independent film makers, like myself, to have their films seen.

  • Bert Duckwall | August 24, 2011 8:10 AMReply

    This company is Dimension -Lite.

  • mary | August 24, 2011 6:52 AMReply

    So basically Focus World VOD is just a dumping channel of Focus Features....

    It is sad to see that Focus Features keep moving away from specialty films that have long-haul value. Focus Features are clearly focusing on lower budget films that have more mainstream appeal....

    Focus Features sold the US rights of "Another Year" to Sony Pictures Classics; I suspect Focus Features would also like to send "Another Year" straight-to-VOD if that film wasn't picked up by Sony Pictures Classics. (It also indicates that Focus Features aren't in the same business with Sony Pictures Classics; Focus Features are in the same business with Summit, Open Road, CBS Films and FilmDistrict)