Marc Shmuger and DavidLinde (pictured), the new co-chiefs at Universal Studios, spoke to Screen yesterday abouttheir new roles at the company, the future of Focus Features and theinternational distribution arm which begins operating in Jan 2007.
Screen: First, what will happen at Focus, David' Will JamesSchamus be sole president'
Linde: I'm not leaving today so I am still going to maintainmy involvement for a while. In answer to your question, this is where we are:Focus is run by James, myself and an executive committee, and that executivecommittee is all the heads of the departments, and that will continue. We arenot looking to replace me, but what we are looking is for the executives withinthe executive committee to assume more responsibility over the course of thenext few months that will be defined over the next few months. It's a verysuccessful company and very profitable and it's very profitable ultimatelybecause of the people within the company, but especially that executive team.That's not going to change.
Screen: There is an impression that you were the businessguy and James was the creative guy. People will ask who will run the day-to-dayoperations of Focus'
Linde: You will find that there are several executives therewho I have been very involved with in terms of what I do in from day to day whowill be stepping up.
Screen: Explain the fact that Marc has been named chairmanand David has been named co-chairman. Is that a purely semantic thing'
Shmuger: Regardless of title, in concept there is totalclarity that we will be running a partnership together.
Screen: How do you complement each other' Do each of youbring a specialty that you will bring to the new roles'
Linde: I think the important thing is to look at Universalfor a second and you see a company that has an extraordinary executive team andhas a release schedule that is pretty much defined all the way into and through'07. Then you take a look at a couple of people who are going to come in whohave a lot of experience, some different experience but similar experience aswell, who also have a lot of film-maker relationships and experience workingwith film-makers and what you see is an organization which is attempting toempower the existing structure for growth. That's the way we look at it. Whatwe are doing is creating an office of the chairman over the next couple ofweeks. There are going to be no dramatic changes at Universal Pictures. Whatwe're trying to do is create a management structure that is going to bereflective of a new age for Universal. Part of that is about two peopleempowering really talented executives to do even more than they have alreadyvery successfully done.
Screen: Do you need to fill the position of vice chairman nowleft vacant'
Shmuger: There is no immediate plan to fill that position.What my purview of vice chairman offered me is a sense of how enormous thebusiness is and how many different areas will benefit from hands-on involvementand collaboration with the team. There is so much work for both of us. I thinkthe good thing is that David and I share a similar style in how we operate, howwe conduct ourselves, how we like to emphasis teamwork, how we collaborate, howwe empower those who we work with. Specifically on the production side, there aretwo great executives here at Universal in Donna Langley and Jon Gordon who aredoing phenomenal work today and we want to continue to support and empower themin the future.
Screen: How will Rogue exist, since you, David were runningit directly'
Linde: Rogue will continue to exist largely as it has.Rogue is a production label and the driving force behind that label is AndrewRona and in a very brief period of time, Andrew has got one film in productionand three prepping and a development slate which is very impressive. What'sgoing to happen is that Andrew is really going to implement that slate.
Screen: At the start of next year, Universal Internationalwill start operating. How will that pipeline be filled'
Shmuger: There are a bunch of different ways to fill thepipeline. We are going to be, when appropriate, holding on to more rights inorder to make sure we have it in the territories where we own distribution.
Screen: Does that include Focus and Rogue titles'
Linde: Italready does. What you will see over the course of the next year is that thereis going to be an increase in the amount of movies that Focus and Rogue ownworldwide rights on and just as we have with The Constant Gardener and Brokeback Mountain and other movies, we are going to maintain the samemix-and-match scenario where some go through Universal in certain territoriesand we license other rights. That's going to continue, there's just going to bemore product.
Shmuger: I don't think there's any other studio in thebusiness at any time that has existed that has two people at the top of theorganisation who have so much passion and experience in the internationalbusiness. It's a loud statement for our company.
Linde: I don't think you are going to find a moreimpressive group of international executives from a studio and specialty sidethan David Kosse and Alison Thompson, and you know there's going to be moreactivity at Focus International anyway. In addition to Focus and Rogue doingmore worldwide rights, Alison's been given the imprimatur to start acquiringmore international rights.
Screen: Presumably you will step up acquisitions in additionto the Universal, Focus and Rogue titles'
Shmuger: Yes,but hopefully being very selective about it. We acquired international rightsto the Nancy Meyers movie Holidaya couple of months ago, specifically filling that strategy.
Screen: Universal hasn't been as aggressive as some otherstudios in local language production. Will that change with the new UniversalInternational operation'
Shmuger: Without question, that is going to be one of theelements in the distribution organization going forward. So will things like Holiday, so will holding on to more rights. It's going to bea patchwork, a variety of ways for us to fill the pipeline with great energy.
Screen: How important is Working Title Films to Universaltoday and were they consulted on the decision'
Shmuger: Yes they were consulted. They are so instrumental asto how we define ourselves as a company and how we see ourselves moving intothe future as a company. They are two of the most amazing producers in theworld, they bring a different sensibility than Hollywood production companiesdo. They give us a unique foothold and advantage in a different kind of productthat has had an extraordinary record of success. You couldn't ask for betterpartners than those guys. David knows them well and I know them well.
Linde: They are two guys with incredible foresight, Ithink. They are great producers but they also have the foresight to realizethat the international marketplace can be unbelievably profitable and ourrelationship with them is really good. Not to be mundane about it, they aregreat guys, and great producers and we look forward to working with them.
Screen: There is a common perception that top studio jobsare highly corporate these days, working more with forecasts, projections andmanaging upwards than with film-makers. On a personal level, do you think that isthe case with Universal'
Shmuger: We are mindful that we run a business and we haveowners and that they are very rigorous business managers. General Electric isone of the world's most admired companies. I've been at the company for eightyears, we've had a revolving door of owners and there's always someone who's writingthe cheques who has all the rights of an owner to understand your business.Part of our job, and we certainly have tremendous support from Ron Meyer here,is to communicate what it is we are trying to do and why. What we are trying todo and the reasons behind it are really sensible, make great creative sense andgreat business sense, so we will continue to pursues those twin goals.