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James Schamus is chief executive officer (CEO) of Focus Features. Focus Features and Focus Features International (FFI) together comprise a singular global company, dedicated to producing, acquiring, financing, selling, and distributing original and daring films from emerging and established filmmakers – films that challenge mainstream moviegoers to embrace and enjoy voices and visions from around the world. The company’s flexible and nuanced approach to distribution allows it to support a wide range of films, from those geared to a single local market to worldwide hits. The company operates as Focus Features domestically, and as Focus Features International overseas.
An integral contributor to the American independent film business for over two decades, Mr. Schamus has the unique distinction of being an award-winning screenwriter and producer who is also a film executive.
Mr. Schamus formed Focus with David Linde in May 2002. Prior to the formation of Focus, Mr. Schamus was co-president of the independent film production company Good Machine, which he co-founded in 1991. Mr. Schamus and his partners at the company produced over 40 films during an 11-year period, in partnership with filmmakers such as Ang Lee, Todd Solondz, and Nicole Holofcener. Through its financing and distribution arm, Good Machine International, the company represented dozens more filmmakers, among them Pedro Almodóvar and the Coen Brothers. Good Machine was honored with a 10-year retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Mr. Schamus is also a screenwriter, and received Academy Award nominations in the Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Song categories for his work on Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The blockbuster Good Machine feature, which Mr. Schamus co-wrote and executive-produced, won 4 Academy Awards.
Mr. Schamus has had a long collaboration as writer and producer with Ang Lee on eleven feature films, with the director’s Brokeback Mountain, starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, released worldwide through Focus Features. The film is Focus’ all-time top-grosser, with global ticket sales of over $180 million. Brokeback Mountain, on which Mr. Schamus served as a producer, won, among other honors, 3 Academy Awards; 4 Golden Globe Awards; 4 BAFTA Awards; and the Producers Guild of America’s top prize, the [Darryl F. Zanuck] Producer of the Year Award, Theatrical Motion Pictures.
Their other films together include Lust, Caution (which Mr. Schamus co-wrote and produced, and which won the Golden Lion Award for Best Picture at the 2007 Venice International Film Festival), released worldwide by Focus; The Hulk (which Mr. Schamus wrote and produced); Ride with the Devil (which Mr. Schamus produced and adapted); The Ice Storm (which Mr. Schamus produced and adapted, earning the Best Screenplay prize at the 1997 Cannes International Film Festival as well as WGA and BAFTA Award nominations); Sense and Sensibility (which Mr. Schamus co-produced); Eat Drink Man Woman (which Mr. Schamus co-wrote and associate-produced); The Wedding Banquet (which Mr. Schamus co-wrote and produced); and Pushing Hands (which Mr. Schamus produced).
Mr. Schamus executive-produced several Good Machine features that won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, including Edward Burns’ The Brothers McMullen, Tom Noonan’s What Happened Was…, and Todd Haynes’ Poison. Among the other films that he executive-produced at Good Machine are Paul Schrader’s AutoFocus, Gregor Jordan’s Buffalo Soldiers, Todd Solondz’ Happiness, Bart Freundlich’s The Myth of Fingerprints, Cindy Sherman’s Office Killer, Nicole Holofcener’s Walking and Talking, and Todd Haynes’ Safe.
He is also Professor in Columbia University’s School of the Arts, where he teaches film history and theory; and he currently serves on the board of directors of Creative Capital. He was the 2006 Presidential Fellow in the Humanities at the University of Chicago, and received his Ph.D. in English from U.C. Berkeley in 2003.
Mr. Schamus was honored with the NBC Screenwriter Tribute at the 2002 Nantucket Film Festival as well as with the Writers Guild of America, East’s 2003 Richard B. Jablow Award for devoted service to the Guild.
Focus’ celebrated releases have included seven more Academy Award winners: Gus Van Sant’s Milk, Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (which grossed over $100 million worldwide), Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, Fernando Meirelles’ The Constant Gardener, Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Walter Salles’ The Motorcycle Diaries, and Joe Wright’s Atonement; and Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Sin Nombre, Henry Selick’s Coraline, Joel and Ethan Coen’s Burn After Reading (which grossed over $155 million worldwide), Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges, Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice, Todd Haynes’ Far from Heaven, François Ozon’s Swimming Pool, and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 21 Grams.
In addition to Taking Woodstock, the upcoming Focus Features domestic slate includes Away We Go, directed by Academy Award winner Sam Mendes and starring John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph; Shane Acker’s animated fantasy epic 9, starring Elijah Wood and Jennifer Connelly and produced by Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov; Greenberg, the new film from writer/director Noah Baumbach, starring Ben Stiller; Academy Award-winning writer/director Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere; and Academy Award-winning writer/directors Joel and Ethan Coen’s A Serious Man.
In addition to the Focus slate, the FFI slate includes AGORA, an historical epic from Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar, starring Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz; Alexander Voitinskiy’s Black Lightning, produced by Timur Bekmambetov; Derek Yee’s Shinjuku Incident, starring Jackie Chan; Academy Award-winning filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s new film Broken Embraces, starring Academy Award winner Penélope Cruz; and the untitled new film from writer/director Mike Leigh.