Focus Features

Showmanship pairs with cineaste's tastes

A two-year break from the acquisitions game ended in a big way with the $10 million pickup of “Hamlet 2” at Sundance.

So far, the pic hasn’t broken out, but even if it doesn’t pay lavish dividends, the move shows that Focus is still in the acquisition game — and much of the pickup price was offset with territorial distribution deals anyway.

Focus’ trademark risk-taking was certainly evident with this past year’s “Lust, Caution.” Ang Lee’s foreign-language period epic became one of the most decorated and successful films ever released in China, but it was a nonstarter Stateside.

Topper James Schamus, who still teaches a film course at Columbia and co-writes many of Lee’s films (the next is 2009’s “Taking Woodstock”), combines a showman’s instincts with a fondness for cinema. Witness Film in Focus, a Web forum co-launched with publisher Faber and Faber and Filmmaker magazine.

Anchoring the late-2007 slate was “Atonement,” the reteaming of the filmmakers behind 2005 Focus hit “Pride & Prejudice.” It grossed $51 million and put Focus in the thick of the Oscar race after a disappointing 2006.

Two other would-be kudos contenders completely melted down: “Reservation Road” and “Talk to Me,” which together grossed less than $400,000.

One big strategic shift saw the Rogue label’s titles migrate to Universal for publicity, marketing and distribution. Focus prexy Andrew Karpen still co-runs Rogue with Andrew Rona. The split follows the release of one of the top-grossing Rogue titles, “Balls of Fury,” which almost hit $30 million domestically under Focus’s aegis.

B.O. CUME: $124 million

TOP PIC: “Atonement,” $51 million

TOPPERS: James Schamus, co-prexy; Andrew Karpen, co-prexy; Jack Foley, prexy, distribution

UP NEXT:

“Burn After Reading” (Sept. 12)

“Milk” (Nov. 26)

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