|Schamus wearing his professor's bow tie, sits outside Dodge Hall|
So as you may or may not have heard there was what we like to call a clusterfuck of a coup d'état over at Focus Features, and visionary producer and distributor; James Schamus was basically let go with Universal forcing Focus to relocate to Los Angeles under the guise of some other guy whom no one has ever heard of, and now Focus is going to suck more than the government shutdown. This hits no one harder than someone like me, and I'm not showing off here, but got to not know him personally but at least pick his brain for a semester during grad school when he taught my Narrative in Film class in a tiny dingy classroom at Dodge Hall at Columbia University in the Fall of 2008.
It was the hardest single class I've ever had, and also the most rewarding. It showed me that there was hope for the film industry as long as visionaries like Schamus were still big players in the game, and really understood the medium better than the money-hounds.
|Schamus and one of his favorite collaborators; Ang Lee. They made three films together.|
Here's what I THINK happened, because no one really knows. I'm sure it will be made public soon. Focus, though being owned by Universal has maintained its integrity throughout and also its loyalty to independent film. Universal was feeling antsy and decided out with the old and in with the new. Focus made it's home in New York City where film is still appreciated as an art form, so they decided well, to hell with that, we'll sell our souls and move the whole company to Los Angeles, leaving Schamus and everyone he ever made famous or important back in NYC to fend for themselves.
A little history about Schamus. He started out with his own company called Good Machine, and personally pioneered the New Queer Cinema movement along with producers like Christine Vachon (another visionary) and her company Killer Films, which is also New York based. Together, they released the films of Gus Van Sant, Todd Haynes, Tom Kalin, Derek Jarman, and others, building a repore within the indie world as mavericks of cinema.
|Schamus and fellow renegades of cinema, director John Waters and producer Christin Vachon.|
Once Schamus started getting more notice, he took things into a more mainstream direction and founded Focus Features, which gave him the opportunity to take small independent films that no one else would touch like Francois Ozon's masterpiece Swimming Pool (2003), and Todd Haynes' definitive work Far from Heaven (2004) and managed not only to make them financially successful, but to win them all kinds of acclaim from the Palm d'Or (for The Pianist (2002)), to multiple Oscars and nominations (For Milk (2008) and (Brokeback Mountain (2005)) all the while maintaining what Gene Kelly repeats somewhat ironically in Singin' in the Rain (1952) ...dignity, always dignity.
|Brokeback Mountain (2005), a film who's meteoric rise and lasting affect on cinema culture would not have been possible without the guidance of James Schamus.|
If I could just open things up here for a minute and speak to James Schamus directly, I would say that you sir, were a paragon, and an iconoclast of cinematic distribution and production in a sea of people who just want to make a quick buck. You have always held up your high standards and never given in to pressure. You've made successes out of the most unpredictable situations, and helped some of the best films of the last two decades be seen and appreciated. Focus will not be the same without you, and neither will the realm of American cinema. Without you, many masterpieces that only you would see the potential in will falter into nothingness, and that is why your departure from Focus is so genuinely sad on all of us. But I at least know that this is not the last we'll hear of Schamus. I have a feeling he'll stick to his principals as he always has and go back to his indie roots, championing the underdog, and remaining an integral cog in the scope of cinema. We all wish you the best.
Below some trailers for Focus films: