EXCLUSIVE: In a post-Cannes surprise, John Lyons will step down from his post as president of production at the end of August. He’s been working on an exit strategy for a little while with Focus’ top execs James Schamus and Andrew Karpen. Lyons wants to return to his producing career, and also spend more time pursuing his philanthropic pet project, the Edible Schoolyard/NYC. Lyon is the founder and board chairman of the charity, which mixes his passion for the environment and growing food at the schools. He will devote more time as the program spreads to schools in the five New York boroughs. Lyons also serves on the board of Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Foundation, which is the national program for the Edible Schoolyard initative, and he’s also on the board of GrowNYC, a non-profit that promotes environmental awareness and runs the city’s Greenmarket programs.
Lyons joined Focus in 2003 and from the Gotham offices oversaw all development and production and the Focus production staff in the New York, L.A. and London offices. He steered films from this year’s Cary Fukunaga-directed Jane Eyre, the Joe Wright-directed Hanna, and past films include the Ang Lee-directed Brokeback Mountain, Gus Van Sant-directed Milk, the Fernando Merielles-directed The Constant Gardener, and the Coen Brothers-directed Burn After Reading and A Serious Man. Also the just wrapped pics: the Paul Weitz-directed adaptation of the memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, with Robert De Niro and Paul Dano, and the Lone Scherfig-directed One Day with Anne Hathaway and Jim Strugess. Focus is just starting production on the Lorene Scafaria-directed Seeking A Friend at the End of the Universe with Steve Carell and Keira Knightley, and are about to get going on the Roger Michell-directed Hyde Park on the Hudson with Bill Murray and Laura Linney and they’re prepping the Wes Anderson-directed Moonrise Kingdom with Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Jason Schwartzman.
At this point, they haven’t figured out how to replace Lyons.
“We are really, really, really gong to miss John,” Schamus said. “For eight years he has been family, not only for all of us at Focus for for all of the many filmmakers he’s helped to nurture here. John has been a vital contributor to many of our successes, and he’s easily one of the most beloved and respected production executives out there…I know the passion and commitment that were the hallmarks of John’s work here will serve both his philanthropic and producing endeavors tenfold. Not only do I wish him the best, I genuinely hope that I’m fortunate enough to work with him in the very near future.”
Said Lyons: “Our slate is in terrific shape and we’re having a great year, so it’s the right time to make a graceful exit. I’ve been so lucky to be here at Focus and grateful to my colleagues, who are truly like a family. I will miss working with all of them, but especially James and Andrew, the other senior execs and most of all my talented hard-working and tireless staff.”