×

With FilmDistrict’s DNA, Will Focus Get a Commercial Makeover?

Some of the indie distrib's 45 staffers will be laid off

As Focus Features absorbs both the indie distrib FilmDistrict and its founder Peter Schlessel by January, Focus will be able to move into making the kind of movies that FilmDistrict has become known for: titles with clear commercial appeal that sometimes retain an indie sensibility.

While Focus has sometimes struggled with films that didn’t crossover from arthouses, FilmDistrict has made a specialty of releasing low-to-medium budget actioners that often saw solid returns, sometimes with prestige elements such as Spike Lee’s upcoming Korean remake “Oldboy.”

With FilmDistrict founder and CEO Peter Schlessel becoming CEO of Focus Films and Focus topper James Schamus ankling,  FilmDistrict will disappear early next year. Focus Features will take over operations of the three-year-old indie distrib.

FilmDistrict’s Top-Grossing Films (PHOTOS)

Some of the 45 Santa Monica-based FilmDistrict staffers will be let go, while the rest move over to Focus. The company’s absorption into Focus is a blow for the indie community, which looked to FilmDistrict as a valuable alternative to small specialty distribs and blockbuster-focused studios.

Schlessel will become the CEO of Focus in January, reporting to Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley. FilmDistrict titles set for release after January will be absorbed into Focus; the filmDistrict brand will then live on solely in library titles.

FilmDistrict has seen success this year with “Olympus Has Fallen” grossing $98 million domestically and “Insidious Chapter 2” with nearly $70 million. Before it vanishes, FilmDistrict will handle Spike Lee’s “Oldboy,” opening Nov. 27, and romcom “That Awkward Moment,” set for Jan. 31.

FilmDistrict was founded in September, 2010, by Schlessel in partnership with Graham King and Timothy Headington’s GK Films with a focus on midrange pictures. Its first titles — “Insidious” and “Soul Surfer” — were released in April, 2011, and performed well with combined $95 million domestic gross.

During its three years of operations, Schlessel forged several partnerships to release FilmDistrict titles, partnering with TriStar on “Soul Surfer” and “Looper” and with Open Road on “Lockout” and “Red Dawn.”

FilmDistrict’s first distribution chief Bob Berney departed in November, 2011. Schlessel subsequently hired DreamWorks exec Christine Birch as marketing chief and James Orr, who had worked at MGM and Paramount, as head of distribution.

Other FilmDistrict titles included “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” “Drive,” “The Rum Diary,” “Evil Dead,” Safety Not Guaranteed” and “In the Land of Blood and Honey.” Upcoming titles include “Pompeii,” which TriStar will release in Feb. 21, and Elizabeth Banks comedy “Walk of Shame,” due out in March; and “Selfless,” starring Ryan Reynolds on Sept. 26.

FilmDistrict had acquired U.S. distribution rights to Mike Flanagan’s horror-thriller “Oculus” at Cannes last year but producers backed away from that pact just before the Toronto Film Festival due to a proviso recalling for a wide release. With the project’s U.S. rights for sale again, Relativity then bought “Oculus” following its premiere in Toronto’s Midnight Madness section.

As for Focus, it made a major splash at Toronto with its $7 million purchase of worldwide rights to Jason Bateman’s spelling-bee comedy “Bad Words” in his feature directorial debut. Produced by Bateman’s 18-month-old Aggregate Films with Darko and MXN Entertainment, Bateman stars with Allison Janney, Phillip Baker Hall, Kathryn Hahn and Rohan Chand.

SEE ALSO: Toronto: Jason Bateman’s ‘Bad Words’ Acquired By Focus Features

 

More Film

  • For web story

    'The Burnt Orange Heresy,' With Mick Jagger and Donald Sutherland, to Close Venice

    “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” starring Mick Jagger as a reclusive art dealer alongside Elizabeth Debicki (“Widows”), Claes Bang (“The Square”) and Donald Sutherland, has been selected as the Venice Film Festival closer.  The English-language art heist movie marks Italian director Giuseppe Capotondi’s first time back at Venice since 2009, when his debut feature film, the [...]

  • A woman prays at a makeshift

    Kyoto Animation Death Toll Rises to 34; Suspect Still Too Injured to Be Questioned

    Shinji Aoba, the man suspected of setting a fire that killed 34 people at the Kyoto Animation studio, remains hospitalized and too injured to be officially arrested and questioned. Police in Kyoto have obtained an arrest warrant for Aoba but cannot serve it because of his condition. Police sources have raised the death toll from [...]

  • Azania Muendane

    Locations Africa Expo Sends Message in Durban: ‘Africa is Ready’

    DURBAN–The first edition of the Locations Africa Expo and Conference was held this week during the Durban FilmMart, with an eye toward identifying and growing the opportunities to lure incoming productions to the continent. “Locations Africa is trying to service a need on the continent to discuss the physical production…on the ground, highlighting film commissions, [...]

  • The Lion King

    China Box Office: 'Looking Up' Is Surprise Weekend Winner Ahead of 'Lion King'

    Actor and comedian Deng Chao underlined his enduring popularity with mainstream Chinese audiences by delivering a surprise No. 1 box-office hit in “Looking Up” over the weekend. It scored $38.6 million in its opening frame, according to data from consultancy Artisan Gateway, and displaced “The Lion King” from its perch. “Looking Up” is a family [...]

  • Unathi Malonga

    Report Urges South African Media to ‘Step Up’ Against Gender Violence

    DURBAN–In a country with some of the highest rates of sexual and gender-based violence in the world, South African media must step up and play a greater role in the fight against gender inequality and gender-based violence. That was the conclusion of a report, “Gender, Diversity and Gender-based Violence in South African TV,” that was [...]

  • SAG-AFTRA HQ

    SAG-AFTRA Leaders Approve Proposal for New Film-TV Contract

    The SAG-AFTRA national board has approved proposals for a successor deal to its master contract covering feature film and primetime television — a key step in the upcoming negotiations cycle with companies. The board approved the package Saturday with the performers union declining to reveal any specifics — its usual policy. The board established the wages [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content