The news that David Linde will leave Focus Features -- a company he founded with James Schamus four years ago -- to join Marc Shmuger atop Universal Pictures reinforces just how much the specialty film business has changed over the past decade. As many have noted recently, the films from companies like Focus Features are crucial to the livelihood of the Hollywood studios today. So, in a year when movies from Indiewood companies dominated the Oscars, the head of a specialty division has ascended to the ranks of running its parent company.
Focus Features co-president (and Rogue Pictures president) David Linde, named co-Chairman of Universal today, will move to L.A. to join Shmuger, named Chairman of the company by studio chief Ron Meyer. Effective immediately, the two will oversee all domestic and international business units of Universal Pictures, Focus Features/Rogue Pictures and Universal Studios Home Entertainment, according to the announcement. They are replacing Stacey Snider who recently announced that she would join the executive ranks at Paramount Pictures as the head of its newly acquired company, Dreamworks.
"When James Schamus, Ted Hope and I sold our company [Good Machine] to Universal four years ago, we had other options and we chose to go with Universal because we liked the people and we liked the organization," Linde told indieWIRE today. Emphasizing the importance of his longtime relationship with new partner Marc Shmuger, he said that when the Good Machine group was in a final decisive discussion, Shmuger was one of the few Universal people in the room. "Its a big move, I am very excited, but I will still be very much a part of Focus," Linde said, reiterating that he is both flattered and excited to join Shmuger to lead the movie studio.
"In a real way, Focus is now a worldwide brand and that was very much the intention when we moved to Universal from Good Machine," explained David Linde, in the conversation with indieWIRE. He explained that when Focus was formed it was launched with a specific business plan that has not changed and he said that no new co-president would be named to run the company with James Schamus. Instead, Linde said the top executives at Focus/Rogue will run the company. Among the executive group at Focus are COO Andrew Karpen, Focus Features President of Production John Lyons, Rogue President of Production Andrew Rona, President of Distribution Jack Foley, Focus International President Allison Thompson, President of Marketing David Brooks, EVP of Publicity Adriene Bowles, and EVP of Business Affairs Avy Eschenasy, EVP Publicity.
The executive group will, he said, "increase its responsibilities -- they are going to become more influential and assume more responsibility," yet will maintain the same ethos seen previously at the company. Linde also reiterated that he would work directly with Focus for the foreseeable future.
Schamus and Linde joined Focus Features when it was formed in 2002, following the acquisition of Good Machine by Universal. While at Good Machine they served as co-presidents with Ted Hope, where Linde ran the company's successful Good Machine International sales arm. Linde joined Good Machine from Miramax, where he handled acquisitions. He has also previously worked in sales as a VP at Fox Lorber and Paramount Pictures.
"For ten years, I've tried to figure out the best way to dissolve my partnership with David," quipped Focus co-president James Schamus in a statement today, "And I finally found the perfect way - they make him my boss!" Continuing Schamus added in the statement, "David is simply the best executive and best colleague I've ever worked with, and he and Marc are going to be the most formidable team in the business. And while everyone at Focus and Rogue will miss having David all to ourselves, he'll remain a vital force here, at a company so finely-tuned his transition will be seamless. So good-bye David and hello boss!"
Asked to elaborate on the future plans for Focus Features, coming off a year in which it produced and distributed the highly successful Oscar winner "Brokeback Mountain," Linde explained that Focus is a particularly unique company with a distinct mission and business plan. His comments also underscored the tremendous value placed on the company by its studio parent.
"You cannot just categorize Focus as specialty," Linde told indieWIRE. "Focus and Rogue's aim is to distribute motion pictures that really reflect the perspective of the filmmaker. The ethos of the two companies is that the filmmaker's perspective is incredibly important in defining and creating original, commercial material, no matter the genre. Is that specialty? Is that genre? Its a peculiar business that is unique and has been implemented successfully."
Continuing Linde added, "You have to keep in mind that Universal is an incredibly unique organization -- it is a company that doesn't confine itself to a specific horizon. The mandate at Universal is to create as much opportunity as possible.
"Universal had its most profitable year ever in 2005 due in no small part to Marc, whose impact on this company has been the foundation for its unique culture and its far-ranging achievements," Universal Studios COO and president Ron Meyer said today in a statement, praising Shmuger. While in a statement about Linde he added, "His combination of strengths is unique in that he has been able to attract exceptional creative talent in a specialty film environment and at the same time is revered in the global sales and distribution community for his taste and acumen."