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This year’s Oscar season has been highlighted by the dramatic return of a former mainstay: Focus Features. Under a new regime that began evolving two years ago at a time when many had written off the Universal Pictures specialty division, Focus came roaring back, with 14 nominations across three films, two of them in the motion picture Academy’s top category.
Joe Wright’s “Darkest Hour” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread” each earned best picture nominations in January, marking the first time Focus has scored twice in one year. Also recognized were leads Gary Oldman, as Winston Churchill, and Daniel Day-Lewis, as a circa-1950s London fashion designer. The two films received six nominations apiece, while Stephen Frears’ “Victoria & Abdul,” starring Judi Dench, picked up a pair. Overall, Focus was second only to Fox Searchlight Pictures in total bids per studio, and Oldman is considered the front-runner for the actor Oscar.
Movies - Bread - Butter - Focus - Chairman
“These movies are our bread and butter,” says Focus chairman Peter Kujawski. “It’s absolutely the core of what we do, trying to be a home to filmmakers like that.”
The victory lap follows a recent identity roller-coaster ride for the Universal City-based company. When former FilmDistrict chief executive Peter Schlessel took the reins in late 2013, following the end-of-an-era ousting of former Focus head James Schamus, the company began courting broader audiences with horror sequels and elevated genre pieces. The strategy never quite found its footing.
Brand - Confusion - Universal - Pictures - Chairman
“We were seeing a real brand confusion,” says Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley. “We made the decision to look back to what made Focus, and the specialty business in general, successful. Now it’s a worldwide organization. That wasn’t the case initially.”
Along the way, Focus tapped former Open Road marketing head Jason Cassidy and former Weinstein Co. publicity chief Dani Weinstein to fill out the ranks alongside Kujawski, president...
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