×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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.

Popular on Variety

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

  • My Zoe

    'My Zoe': Film Review

    There are two films in Julie Delpy’s ambitious, sharply-made but unbalanced “My Zoe.” There’s the scabrous relationship melodrama, about bitter exes sharing custody of a beloved child, which contains the story’s most potent emotions. And there’s the sci-fi-inflected ethical-dilemma grief movie, which houses its most provocative ideas. Both have much to recommend them, not least [...]

  • Richard Jewell

    The Big Lie of 'Richard Jewell' (Column)

    For a man who was so enraged at the administration of Barack Obama that he spent his 2012 Republican Convention speech lecturing an empty chair, Clint Eastwood has made a number of conventional, level-headed — one might even say liberal — political dramas. Films like “Invictus” and “J. Edgar” and “Midnight in the Garden of [...]

  • Oscar Isaac Star Wars The Rise

    Oscar Isaac Has Never Felt Like a 'Star Wars' Insider

    Unlike his “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” co-stars Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, Oscar Isaac had already established a long and acclaimed acting career before J.J. Abrams cast him as ace X-wing pilot Poe Dameron in 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” including standout roles in 2006’s “The Nativity Story” and 2011’s “Drive,” and [...]

  • Les Arcs to Showcase New Projects

    Les Arcs to Showcase New Projects by Jonas Alexander Arnby, Agnieszka Smoczyńska

    Denmark’s Jonas Alexander Arnby, France’s Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli, and Poland’s Agnieszka Smoczyńska are among up-and-coming directors from across Europe whose latest projects will be presented at the 11th Coproduction Village of Les Arcs Film Festival. This edition of Les Arcs Coproduction Village will showcase a total of 22 European projects spanning 19 countries. [...]

  • Chez Jolie Coiffure

    'Chez Jolie Coiffure': Film Review

    Shortly before the credits roll on “Chez Jolie Coiffure,” a customer in the eponymous hair salon asks her stylist, Sabine, if she has any plans to go home this year. Out of context, this sounds like the kind of standard, empty small talk one often makes while having one’s hair cut: what good movies you’ve [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content