DAILY NEWS: Changes at Cowboy Pictures as Film Community Buzzes About the End of Good Machine; Schamus and Hope Discuss Their Plans
with articles by Eugene Hernandez, with additional reporting by Matthew Ross/indieWIRE
>> Changes at Cowboy Pictures; Vanco Takes Reigns as President, Cowan Becomes President of Code Red
Changes in the downtown Manhattan film landscape are not limited to Good Machine and USA Films; indie company Cowboy Pictures is undergoing a shift as well, with its partners also amicably changing their relationship. In a joint telephone call to indieWIRE on Friday afternoon, co-presidents John Vanco and Noah Cowan announced their decision to begin restructuring the operations of the company.
Vanco will take over as the sole president of Cowboy Pictures, while
business partner Cowan has been named the president of Code Red, a releasing
label formed two years ago by Cowboy and Antidote Films Jeffrey Levy-Hinte
to acquire and distribute doc, indie and foreign-language pictures. Cowan’s
appointment to the post at Code Red is effective immediately and while not
much will change in the short term, all indications are that new things are
in store for Code Red down the road.
The move is entirely amicable and seems designed to allow Vanco and Cowan
the opportunity to more actively pursue areas that each are interested in.
“It’s so amicable, that I want Noah out there with me finding the best
possible movies at Cannes,” offered John Vanco during the conversation with
indieWIRE. “He is still going to be a part of the Cowboy picture,” continued
Vanco. “In a very active way,” added Cowan.
“At the foundation of the friendship of John and I is our common vision of
what makes good cinema and how to get good cinema to as many people as
possible,” Cowan explained. “This new structure is going to address the
larger universe that we are playing with, mutually and with absolutely each
others best interests at heart.”
While Cowan is not ready to discuss his long-term plans for Code Red just
yet, he confirmed that he will remain closely connected to Cowboy and Vanco.
In fact, Cowboy is currently releasing two Code Red titles, Chris Smith’s
“Home Movie” and Shohei Imamura’s “Warm Water Under a Red Bridge.” Among the
other Code Red titles are “George Washington,” “On Hostile Ground,” “Cure,”
“La Cienaga,” “Fat Girl,” “Just One Time,” “On Hostile Ground,” and “In The
“In the short term, I will be working with Cowboy to manage those releases,
in the longer term it means a different, more active administration over
Code Red titles and the ability to see the brand of Code Red do a variety of
different things.” An announcement of those plans is expected this summer.
In the meantime, Cowan explained that he plans to remain based at
Cowboy’s Laight St. office.
Vanco said that he is still deciding how to restructure Cowboy
Pictures. He confirmed that within the current staffing structure, some
responsibilities will be shifted to account for Cowan’s absence.
“Noah will continue to be a really strong voice in what kind of projects
Cowboy does,” Vanco reinforced.
“Its hard to imagine a friendlier situation, a more collaborative situation,
than for the two of us to be working together at Cannes,” concluded Cowan.
Cowboy Pictures releases have included Aviva Kempner’s “The Life and Times
of Hank Greenberg,” Jem Cohen and Pete Sillen’s “Benjamin Smoke,” George
Butler’s “The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition.” And
Justine Shapiro, B.Z. Goldberg and Carlos Bolado’s “Promises.” Noah Cowan, a
former associate director of programming for the Toronto International Film
Festival and a contributing editor for FILMMAKER Magazine, was an executive
producer of “Benjamin Smoke.” John Vanco was a national publicist at Miramax
who worked on a number of films for the company, including “The Wings of the
Dove,” “Shall We Dance?,” “Kolya,” and a Cassavetes retrospective. Before
joining Miramax, he was director of marketing and publicity for New Yorker
Films. [Eugene Hernandez]
[For more information on Cowboy Pictures, visit:
>> Looking Back and Looking Ahead, James Schamus and Ted Hope Embark
Upon Divergent Paths; Good Machine Founders Reflect on the Big News
and Discuss Their Plans for the Future
(indieWIRE: 05.06.02) — The trailer for James Schamus and Ang Lee‘s latest
collaboration, “The Hulk,” debuted to cheers ahead of “Spider-man”
Friday, the same day that “Hulk” writer and producer James Schamus made
headlines as the co-president of Focus, Universal Studios new specialty film
unit that combines Good Machine and USA Films. At the beginning of a
conversation with indieWIRE on Saturday afternoon, Schamus joked that the
trailer for “Hulk,” a big-budget studio feature currently in production
and due for release in June 2003, was more demanding than some of the
independent films he has produced.
While Schamus has his hands full strategizing the teaser trailer for
what promises to be one of next Summer’s blockbusters, not to mention
preparing to take charge of a new studio specialty division, former
Good Machine partner Ted Hope is eyeing a much smaller scale operation
for his new venture.
The two Good Machine founders spoke with indieWIRE in separate
conversations this weekend to discuss their plans for the future,
while at the same time reflecting on what they achieved together.
Hope’s as yet unnamed new venture will be a small production company
made up of six or seven people, he told indieWIRE yesterday. The team
will include Good Machine’s Anthony Bregman and Anne Carey, along
with a few assistants and thats it.
Good Machine has been involved in 45 feature film productions since
Schamus and Hope founded the company in New York City in January 1991.
Among the titles are the recent “In the Bedroom,” “Storytelling,” “Human
Nature,” and “The Laramie Project.” Other films include “The Brothers
McMullen,” “Walking and Talking,” “The Myth of Fingerprints,” “The Tao of
Steve,” and Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Ride With the
Devil,” “The Ice Storm,” “Eat Drink Man Woman,” “The Wedding Banquet,” and
“Pushing Hands.” In 11 years, the company has taken 21 films to Sundance,
with four winning the grand jury prize at the prestigious festival.
With last week’s deal, the company name is being frozen for the time
being, according to the partners. A decision will be made in the future
about its “proper use,” according to Schamus.
The deal with Universal puts Schamus atop Focus with five-year business
partner David Linde, who established Good Machine International in 1997 as a
worldwide sales and production company. The outfit is currently handling
Spike Jonze’s “Adaptation,” Pedro Almodovar’s “Hable Con Ella,” and Zhang
Yimou’s “Hero.” Other films include “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” “The Man Who Wasn’t
There,” “Dancer in the Dark,” and “Bride of Chucky.” Under the Universal
acquisition, Focus International will, according to Schamus, “continue to
handle a wide range of films.” He added, “Our area of specialization is
stuff that’s driven by an anchor in the American market.”
Another element of the pact gives Ted Hope’s new company a three-year,
first-look deal to produce films that will be distributed by Focus.
Schamus confirmed that Good Machine’s production team will stay with
“To me, its returning to what I’ve always to do and what I love most,”
Hope explained in the conversation with indieWIRE yesterday. “Good Machine
had gotten quite large, I can’t say it was my favorite part of the
business to supervise 35 people.”
“Ted gets to continue to do exactly what he wants to do and I get to do
what I want to do,” Schamus explained, “And we get to do it together.”
Hope said yesterday that his new company is already “up and running,”
adding that he expects to announce the outfit’s first project later
this week. He also indicated that his new company will control Good
Machine projects that were in development. “All of the projects that
I have wanted to make, I am still going to make,” Hope said.
Of course, he still has to come up with a name for the operation.
“(Good Machine) was a really cool name,” Hope admitted, “I am having
a damn hard time coming up with a name to rival it.” He has also yet
to decide where to set up his New York City office.
Schamus and Hope’s feelings about the deal seem to echo those of
colleagues in the independent and specialty film community. Calling
the moment “sad” and “bittersweet,” Schamus admitted, “Neither Ted
nor I are all that interested in the great glory of institutions —
it is more about the movies and the people that we work with.”
Hope offered on Sunday, “I’ve always lamented the fact that there
aren’t more movies that are greater than the directors, stars, and
producers that created them.” At Good Machine, he added, “it was the
It is, Schamus explained Saturday, “an occasion to look back with a
measure of fond regret and it is (also) about looking forward with
insane hysteria.” Concluding the thought he added, “It’s nice when
something ends on a positive note.”
As for the new Focus, Schamus reinforced that this deal is meant to
unify USA Films’ production, marketing and distribution divisions with
Good Machine’s management and international sales business (to be renamed
Focus International). “The great thing about this deal,” Schamus explained,
“Is that there really is not much in the way of overlap or redundancy.”
Any changes, he explained, will be about what’s best for the company.
The details of that integration will be sorted out after Cannes, according
to Schamus. No decision has been made yet about where to situate Focus’
offices. For now, as in Friday’s video teleconference with the USA Films
group, he is determined to reinforce to all company employees that they have
a “safety net” and should feel secure.
“I am enormously proud of the enormous commitment by Ron Meyer (Universal
Studios president and COO) and Stacy Snider (Universal Pictures chairman),”
said Schamus. Universal Studios is part of the TV and film division (headed
by CEO Barry Diller) of Vivendi Universal, a global company with interests
in publishing, telecommunications, and the Internet. It is headed by
Chairman and CEO Jean-Marie Messier, a man at the center of a controversy
recently for the dismissal of Pierre Lescure of Canal+ (Vivendi Universal
was formed as an entity in 2000 with the merger of Canal+ and Seagram).
Being a part of a mega-entertainment company like Vivendi Universal is the
element of the story that has already raised concerns among some in New
York’s small indie film community. While Good Machine has evolved to include
some of the higher profile, larger budget, more mainstream specialty films,
this deal takes Schamus and Linde up another rung of ladder and will have
the duo at the center of a major Indiewood operation. And it puts them in
the arms of Universal, a studio that (under different ownership) had egg
on its face after then-parent Seagram forced October Films to drop
Todd Solondz‘s Good Machine/Killer Films production, “Happiness” in
summer 1998. Linde, Schamus, and Hope ultimately released the movie
“(Focus) is an autonomous independent company making and distributing
movies that are not studio movies,” assured Schamus during the
conversation with indieWIRE. “It is a New York based company run by
people that the community knows pretty well.” When pressed about Focus’
ability to release movies that are branded with an NC-17 rating, or those
that are unrated, he explained that he does not believe there is a policy
prohibiting he and Linde from releasing such films.
Switching gears, Schamus confirmed that he plans to maintain his life as a
screenwriter while at the same time running a specialty division, although
he admitted that he may have to cut back on that a bit. “I am absolutely
always there for Ang, to write and to produce, ” he offered, “We have
acknowledged that in the transaction — writing is very much a part of my
“The worst thing about this is that I don’t have the distributor to blame
anymore,” Schamus quipped, as we concluded our conversation. “Now the only
thing left for us to do is go screw up.” [Eugene Hernandez]
>> Biz-types Buzzing as Good Machine News Breaks; Longtime Friends
and Colleagues Optimistic as Good Machine and USA Films are Redefined
(indieWIRE: 05.06.02) — Even before the Good Machine staff had gathered
Friday at noon in their Canal Street office to hear the full story, industry
insiders were already buzzing about news that the company had been acquired
by Universal Studios and would be merged with USA Films.
There are few recent biz developments that have had indie and specialty
tongues wagging like they were on Friday. Perhaps not since the demise of
The Shooting Gallery last summer have people had something this meaty to
gossip about. Public comments were universally supportive, even if some
people are skeptical or are taking a bit of a wait-and-see approach.
Speculation on Friday surrounded the question of the wider impact that this
deal might have. “It’s too soon to know whether it’s good or bad news,”
explained independent film attorney and Cinetic Media principal John Sloss.
“These are two very important, active companies, I hope this new entity
builds on what’s already there,” continued Sloss, adding, “It depends on
what Vivendi sets out for them as an agenda in terms of production, but this
deal could well create a void and present new opportunities for independent
producers in New York.”
“I think it’s a good thing for everyone,” commented Strand Releasing’s
Marcus Hu, a longtime friend and collaborator of Good Machine’s James
Schamus and Ted Hope. “I certainly wish James the best,” he added, also
offering, “It will give Ted an opportunity to do what he wants to do.”
Hu’s relationship with Schamus dates back to the Raoul Ruiz film, “The
Golden Boat.” Hu, along with Strand partner Jon Gerrans, saw the picture at
the Berlin Film Festival and acquired it for release. With a cast that
included Jim Jarmusch and Barbet Schroeder, the film was shot by Maryse
Alberti. Frequent Good Machine collaborator, Killer Films’ Christine Vachon,
was among those on the crew of the New York indie (the producer was
traveling on Friday and unable to be reached for comment).
Also involved in the Ruiz picture, as associate producer, was Scott
Macaulay (now of Forensic Films and also editor of FILMMAKER Magazine).
He later worked with Good Machine on Sundance award-winner “What Happened
“Over the last 20 years, independent filmmaking has necessarily become, with
regards to production and distribution, a global business,” commented
Macaulay, who has also produced “The Chateau,” and “Gummo,” among others.
“James and David are two of the smartest people out there in terms of
understanding how these dynamics function on both business and creative
“Ted Hope is a great producer,” concluded Macaulay, “So with his new company
having a deal with Focus, it seems like a great move for all three of them.”
New York indie producer Jason Kliot offered, “They have shown tremendous
dedication to independent filmmakers and a true love of film that is not
always present among studio executives, while simultaneously considering the
needs of the marketplace.” Kliot, who with Joana Vicente, runs Open City
Films and Blow-Up Pictures (“Three Seasons,” “Love in the Time of Money,”
“Chuck and Buck”), added, “To be able to bring our projects to people who
have that understanding from a producer’s perspective and have struggled and
have fought the good fight, is a very good thing, I think it will bring an
openness to the process that may not have existed before.”
Lot 47 Films head Jeff Lipsky praised Good Machine as well, adding, “I think
the world of the people at Good Machine and I hope it works out to the best
of their advantage. They are a very talented group of people.” Lipsky
co-founded October Films in the early ’90s with Bingham Ray, but left
the outfit before it was acquired by Universal and became USA Films.
“I am very proud that something I started in my living room in Sherman
Oaks, CA is now being sought by everybody in the film business.” Lipsky
added, “I have no idea what it means. Ask Vivendi.”
For some the announcement marks the emergence of a new competitor. “These
are very capable people that I’ve known for a long time,” explained Bingham
Ray, now head of United Artists. “They have heretofore always been allies,”
said Ray, “Now I will face them as worthy competitors.”
Sony Pictures Classics’ Tom Bernard isn’t expressing a bit of concern about
the new entity, but sees the outfit as a challenge to others. “Last year
they were partners with Miramax,” he stated, referring to a recent
first-look deal signed between Miramax and Good Machine, “This year they are
competitors with Miramax.” The exec added that Good Machine’s recent slate
has proven more in line with what he calls “Miramax range movies,” adding,
“They are in a different business — I see them and Miramax banging heads.”
Eamonn Bowles, formerly of Miramax and Shooting Gallery and now the head of
Magnolia Pictures, said, “I think for Universal it’s an amazing and
incredibly ball-sy move. It’s obvious that James and David are going to have
a bigger palate to work with, which is going to be great for the larger
scale films — I think (they) are going to do a great job in that
environment. In the short term at least, they’ll be an incredibly
The downside is the possibility of getting swallowed up by the corporate
machinery,” cautioned Bowles. “Let’s not dismiss the reality of corporate
America.” Continuing he added, “Part of me is a little sad that Good Machine
is no longer, it was a truly independent New York-based company.”
Kliot concluded, “I think this is a very good thing and yet I am saddened
by it. I am saddened because my favorite independent production company,
(one) that I have worked with and that I always looked up to as I entered
the industry, is no longer here.” [Eugene Hernandez, with additional
reporting by Matthew Ross]
>> FRIDAY IN indieWIRE DAILY NEWS: Good-bye Good Machine, Sundance
Channel and Lot 47 Pact, Lake Placid Film Forum Plans and Chicago
Latino Fest Winners
(indieWIRE: 05.03.02) — Universal Studios has acquired New York film
outfit Good Machine and merged it with USA Films. The new company,
which will be renamed Focus, will be headed by former Good Machine
principals James Schamus and David Linde; The Sundance Channel has
secured the U.S. pay TV rights to six recent Lot 47 films; The Lake
Placid Film Forum, has announced programs, films and events for this
year’s third edition which will be held in the famed Olympic resort
town June 5-9; And, Puerto Rican film “Doce Horas” (12 Hours) claimed
the audience choice award at the 18th Chicago Latino Film Festival.