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.'”