Peter Schlessel
Paul Bruinooge/Patrick McMullan/Sipa USA

Universal Pictures International will merge with Focus Features under the latter’s banner, a union that will remove Peter Schlessel as CEO of the studio’s speciality film operations.

Universal billed the move as “combining the resources of Universal Pictures International Productions with the highly respected creative legacy of Focus Features,” in order to “grow the specialty film sector both domestically and around the world.” The announcement came from Universal Pictures Chairman Donna Langley.

Heading the new entity will be Peter Kujawski, who has been managing director of Universal Pictures International Productions. Kujawski will take over after Schlessel departs on April 1. In addition, UPIP Co-Managing Director Robert Walak will become president, and Universal’s executive vice president of film strategy, Abhijay Prakash, will join Focus as chief operating officer.

Universal said that the new organization “will be able to better leverage Universal’s worldwide distribution apparatus on behalf of its specialty product and become more closely aligned with the studio’s global strategy.” It will leave in place Focus’ marketing and distribution operations, as the company continues to release the same number of films.

“This move further demonstrates our commitment to both the specialty space and the international production and acquisition businesses. By aligning these product lines and bringing them closer to the studio, Focus will be able to take advantage of a wealth of resources — maximizing its opportunity for success,” said Langley.

Langley said in her statement that she and Schlessel had “mutually agreed” it was time for him to leave the company “as his interests are not solely focused on the specialized film marketplace.” She went on to say he had been “a terrific leader for Focus for the past two years,” who used a “collaborative team-oriented” approach.

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