New Focus has Rogue Pictures under Universal

More room on Schamus' slate

NEW YORK -- Focus Features and its genre arm Rogue Pictures are playing internal musical chairs with parent studio Universal.

Distribution and marketing of Rogue films will move to Universal, while Focus increases in-house productions and its overall output, adds new collaboration with Universal's overseas production group and brings aboard two hires.

Between more productions and acquisitions, Focus will add two to four releases a year to its current six- to seven-film annual lineup. Rogue's slate is expected to remain steady at three or four films a year.

The move is being painted as a boon for Focus, allowing it more time to concentrate on upscale specialty fare while using Universal's muscle to widen distribution -- and justify higher $20 million-plus budgets -- on Rogue genre films.

Focus CEO James Schamus and president Andrew Karpen said they don't anticipate any cuts to Focus' marketing and distribution departments, now comprised of about 25 staffers. Schamus said Karpen will continue as president and share Rogue president duties with Andrew Rona, coordinating Rogue marketing with Universal.

Also, a pair of two-year Paramount Vantage vets are joining the Focus team. Vantage production and acquisitions manager Samantha Taylor Pickett will become director of development, and Vantage story editor Michael Pruss has been named creative executive. Each reports to senior vp production Kahli Small in the Universal City offices.

Focus hasn't acquired a film in two years, and Schamus said that the increase in Focus productions won't come at the expense of new buys, instead freeing up the "bandwidth" for more acquisitions when the right opportunities arise. "There is now space on the Focus slate to add few more acquisitions to the roster each year, and we have the infrastructure in place to market and distribute the additional titles," he said.

Schamus cited Working Title productions and Cary Fukunaga's upcoming Spanish-language thriller "Sin Nombre" -- made via Universal's new international production arm with producer Amy Kaufman of Primary Prods. and executive producer Pablo Cruz of Canana Films -- as examples of future collaborations. Focus will release the film domestically.

The exec said the wider pipeline will allow Focus to experiment with a broader range of release strategies, including some wider releases and more first- and second-quarter releases than before. The latter is seemingly an attempt to avoid the clogged traffic of fall indie releases many distributors are facing.

The Rogue move brings the genre division under greater control of David Linde, the man who launched it with Schamus. The division was unveiled at ShoWest in March 2004 by then-Focus co-presidents Linde and Schamus with Linde as founding president. Following Linde's appointment to co-chairman of Universal alongside chairman Marc Shmuger at the 2006 Festival de Cannes, Karpen and Rona took over his Rogue duties.

Having a major studio take over genre film distribution also reflects common wisdom that genre films don't succeed with platform releases, which is Focus' specialty. Still, Schamus and Karpen said Rogue will continue making some smaller-scale films alongside bigger-budgeted films such as the upcoming thrillers "The Strangers" with Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman and "Doomsday" with Bob Hoskins and Malcolm McDowell. Both will be distributed next year through Universal.

"This proactive strategy recognizes the successes of both Focus and Rogue," Shmuger and Linde said. "It preserves Focus' commitment to its core filmmaking ambitions and principles and looks to achieve the maximum potential of Rogue's established production team on a larger playing field."

Before Vantage, Pickett worked for Michael Mann and at CAA, and Pruss worked at DreamWorks.