It was a big — and emotional — Thursday night for the old Focus Features as their Oscar hopeful Dallas Buyers Club had a very well-received Los Angeles premiere at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The movie, which had a rocky road just getting to the screen, brought strong response both for the film and at the beginning, when the Focus Features logo came up on screen greeted by an unusual burst of applause. It was undoubtedly a show of gratitude for the memorable lineup of movies the company, which is now undergoing a major transformation and apparent change of mission, has turned out since 2002 when it was formed out of remnants of USA Films, Universal Focus and Good Machine. Longtime Focus head James Schamus, who was suddenly replaced two weeks ago as CEO by FilmDistrict’s Peter Schlessel, held court in the lobby afterward for what he told me was their “last hurrah”. In a classy move, Schlessel stayed away from the premiere, letting Schamus and his team have the spotlight for the Oscar-touted movie that could represent the end of a great art house era for Focus — a company which may be focusing on more mainstream and genre films (at least in part) in the future.
Schamus was soaking in the praise and taking it all in stride, telling me, “This film is very important and we have believed in it from the beginning. We are taking this one all the way to the altar, all the way, and I am going to be there for it.” We both recalled that he started telling me about the special nature of Dallas Buyers Club at Cannes in May. “I get the same feeling I got 11 years ago when we saw The Pianist take off, ” he said about the underdog 2002 Roman Polanski-directed movie that won three major Oscars and almost took Best Picture (Chicago squeaked it out, but likely very narrowly). Outgoing marketing head David Brooks also was upbeat about the reaction to the film last night, but acknowledged it was a little bittersweet. The film represents the kind of movie Focus has so successfully shepherded through many an Oscar season. Outgoing co-CEO Andrew Karpen was among other Focus execs in attendance along with parent company Universal’s Ron Meyer, Donna Langley and newly installed chairman Jeff Shell who took over for Adam Fogelson last month. (more…)