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Focus Layoffs Begin, Foreign Sales Arm Likely to Close

Peter Schlessel - P 2013
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Peter Schlessel takes over the helm at Focus.

As FilmDistrict's Peter Schlessel takes over Universal's specialty division, the unit's New York and London offices are expected to shutter.

As Universal remakes Focus Features, the studio began issuing pink slips Monday to employees at the 10-year-old specialty division in both New York and Los Angeles. As FilmDistrict’s Peter Schlessel takes the helm at Focus, Universal is closing the unit’s New York office and is also expected to shut down Focus Film International, which handles foreign sales out of its London office.

Under former CEO James Schamus, whose departure was announced Oct. 2 when Schlessel was named to take over, Focus had 103 employees -- 43 in L.A., 44 in New York and 16 in London. Only a handful of top executives are remaining with the newly reorganized company.

Some employees in the New York office, located at 65 Bleecker Street, were informed Monday of positions open to them in Los Angeles if they are willing to relocate. According to one source, only two members of the current New York staff were offered jobs that would allow them to remain in New York. A Universal spokesperson declined comment on the current state of the downsizing. As part of the restructuring, Universal is expected to shut down Focus’ current office space in Manhattan.

Focus Features International also will be closed down, according to other sources, although that process could take some time because of British laws governing how notices must be given to affected employees. The studio spokesperson said no decision has been made about the future of FFI.

Focus’ foreign sales team, headed by co-president Alison Thompson, is scheduled to take part in the upcoming American Film Market, which gets underway Nov. 6 in Santa Monica. Focus will be handling titles like the horror movie Oculus, from director Mike Flanagan, and Dexter Fletcher’s Sunshine on Leith, both of which played the Toronto Film Festival.