James Schamus on Hamlet 2: So What?

Focus features CEO James Schamus is a tad late to the Festival this year due to a bug. But what’s really bugging him is the amount of prognosticating about sales and the state of film financing that goes on in advance of the event. “We have layered over the possibility of any new experience we might have with this ongoing discourse,” he laments.


Of course, his company’s costly acquisition last year of the unlucky HAMLET 2 has been the cautionary tale of this year’s Festival. But Schamus says he can live with that. He says he knew when Focus bought the film that this would be the likely outcome, because those are the odds. “We’ve all made our trip to HAPPY, TEXAS,” he says, referring to the multi-million-dollar 1999 Miramax acquisition that is perhaps the notorious misfire to come out of the Festival bidding wars. “I’m happy to be the first paragraph in everybody’s pre-Festival story this year. I’ll take my lumps and move on.”

In fact, Schamus goes further: “My main thing to say to people is, `Don’t learn too much from your mistakes.”

This year, Focus has SIN NOMBRE from director Cary Joji Fukunaga in the Festival. “It’s the only studio film in competition in Sundance with a first-time filmmaker and in a language that’s not English,” he says. “It says a lot about our aspirations as a studio.”

Does he believe parent company GE will allow him to stay the course in this economy? “It’s very difficult for me to predict or in any way speak to that,” he says. “They’ve more than kept up their end of the deal so far.” He adds that Focus is “doing, oddly, quite well.”

And he wants to keep the focus where it belongs, which to him is certainly not on business just now. “We all have to talk about this stuff but the best part about Sundance is when the lights go down.”