Market attendees woke up to the grim reality of Hollywood on Thursday after it emerged that Focus Features International (FFI) is to close at the end of December.
The move, confirmed by parent company Universal on Wednesday, follows last month’s shock announcement involving Focus Features and FilmDistrict.
Industry observers have been virtually unanimous in the belief that the October shake-up heralded the demise of Focus Features in its current incarnation as an arthouse specialist.
As news got out that co-founder James Schamus was on his way out, the New York office would close and incoming CEO Peter Schlessel would preside over a consolidated hub in Los Angeles, thoughts turned inevitably to the fate of the sales division.
All 16 FFI employees in London were notified that the company was shuttering at what will have been an acutely sensitive time as Alison Thompson and her team prepared for the market.
FFI will continue to sell territories on existing titles at the AFM. The world-class sales division has introduced a number of titles to buyers this year, such as Mike Leigh’s untitled JMW Turner biopic (pictured), the Amy Winehouse documentary, Jeremy Renner starrer Kill The Messenger andn Kevin Macdonald’s thriller Black Sea.
Films greenlit by Focus Features will continue to be serviced and delivered to buyers through completion. Going forward, Universal Pictures International will distribute select titles while individual sales agents will be appointed to handle others.
“Buyers have looked to Focus to provide superior product and they have consistently delivered,” said international sales consultant John Baca, echoing the thoughts of many. “They will definitely be missed.”
One prominent figure in the sales space who asked to remain anonymous said: “It’s scary. When companies of FFI’s stature are closing it’s a bad sign for all of us – just like it was when the specialty divisions of the majors closed. You might think we’d be glad to lose a competitor but actually it’s a bad sign for the market.”
After Universal bought Good Machine and merged it with USA Films to form Focus under the leadership of Schamus and David Linde in 2002, the sales arm became famous for the pedigree of its choices and ability to forge strong ties with film-makers like Wes Anderson and Woody Allen.
Marquee titles sold by FFI down the years have included Brokeback Mountain, The Constant Gardener, Moonrise Kingdom, Eastern Promises, Blue Jasmine and Lost In Translation.