Focus Features

Solid bow, pipeline bode well for U's boutique

Assembled out of Good Machine and USA Films and taking with it the best of both company’s production slates as well as GM’s foreign sales operations, the Universal specialty arm had a strong debut year.

This was capped by the critical success of “Far From Heaven” and “The Pianist,” the latter striking fear into the hearts of Miramax right up to the decisive best picture moment on Oscar night, after nabbing three key statues late in the evening.

More recently, the company mounted a shrewd counterprogramming campaign with “Swimming Pool,” which looks likely to become a tidy arthouse hit.

While staffers insist co-president James Schamus has been remarkably present in the day-to-day operations at Focus, his other focus has been on co-writing “The Hulk” with Ang Lee and completing a doctorate at Berkeley for much of the year.

With Schamus back onboard full time, attention will fix on the direction in which he and co-chief David Linde intend to steer Focus, which has a strong slate of upscale releases in the pipeline, including “Sylvia,” “Lost in Translation” and “21 Grams.” (Charlie Kaufman-scripted “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” with Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, will be released next year.)

Last month, production topper Glenn Williamson segued to a producing deal at Focus/U, with Gotham-based John Lyons taking over his position.

Exec ranks: David Linde, James Schamus, co-presidents; Jack Foley, prexy, distribution; John Lyons, prexy, production; Amy Kaufman, exec VP, acquisitions & co-productions

First-looks: Anonymous Content (Steve Golin); Bona Fide Prods. (Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa); Jane Campion (Academy Award-winning writer-director); Elephant Walk Entertainment (Doug McHenry); David Leveaux (Tony Award-winning director); Liaisons Films (Stephane Sperry); Pretty Pictures (Neil LaBute, Gail Mutrux); This Is That (Ted Hope, Anthony Bregman, Anne Carey)

Recent pickups: “Swimming Pool” (December); “It’s All About Love” (Sundance); “Lost in Translation” (AFM)

Year at B.O.: Top grosser: “The Pianist” ($32.6 million); lowest grosser: “The Guys” ($23,447)

Kudo watch: Several performance-driven pics are likely to get a push in various categories: “Swimming Pool” toplines Charlotte Rampling; Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation,” with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson; “Sylvia” stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig; “21 Grams,” from “Amores Perros” helmer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, features Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro and Naomi Watts.