Universal applies Focus to its specialty pic unit

Specialty division to phase out USA Films as distrib

Nine months after creating the niche unit, Universal Pictures has dubbed its inhouse specialty films division as Universal Focus.

“Universal Focus perfectly describes the role of this division as it complements our broad-based Universal Pictures slate, while allowing us to focus our efforts on effectively developing, nurturing, marketing and distributing specialty titles,” said Stacey Snider, chairman of Universal Pictures.

The announcement means that Universal will phase out using USA Films for distribution of its specialty projects, which have included “Being John Malkovich,” “Pitch Black” and the restored “Rear Window.”

U’s final specialty releases to be handled by USA — 45% owned by Universal parent Seagram Co. — will include “Nurse Betty,” with Rene Zellweger, Chris Rock and Greg Kinnear, directed by Neil Labute and produced by Gail Mutrux and Steve Golin; Michael Winterbottom’s “Wonderland” and Phoenix Pictures’ “Mad About Mambo” with Keri Russell.

The Universal Focus operations will continue to be jointly headed by executive VP Claudia Gray and senior veep Paul Hardart.

It will market and distribute product from Working Title 2, DNA Pictures, Alan Parker’s Dirty Hands Prods., Jersey Shore Films, Shooting Gallery, Catch 23 Prods., Steinhardt/Baer Prods., Renascence Electronic Media and Universal Pictures Intl. acquisitions as well as re-release and restoration of Universal classic films.

The first film to be distributed by the division will be Working Title’s “Billy Elliot,” a dance drama set in England and formerly known as “Dancer.” “Billy Elliot,” directed by Stephen Daldry and screened at the Cannes Film Festival, will open in the fall.

Upcoming Universal Focus releases include Working Title’s “The Man Who Cried,” starring Christina Ricci, John Turturro, Cate Blanchett and Johnny Depp and directed by Sally Potter; DNA’s “Beautiful Creatures,” starring Rachel Weisz and directed by Bill Eagles; “Cocozza’s Way,” staring Ian Hart and directed by Peter Capaldi; and “Final Curtain,” with Peter O’Toole and directed by Pat Harkins.

Also included under the new label are Jersey Shore’s “The Caveman’s Valentine,” with Samuel L. Jackson and directed by Kasi Lemmons; “The Rat,” directed by Steve Baron; Shooting Gallery’s “Loving Jezebel,” directed by Kwyn Baker; “Good Housekeeping,” directed by Frank Novak; “Julie Johnson,” starring Lili Taylor and directed by Bob Gosse; and Hell’s Kitchen’s “Catch The Sun,” produced by Jim Sheridan and Arthur Lappin and directed by John Carney.

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