In Focus: Former Good Machine partners Ted Hope, James Schamus and David Linde at last night's salute marking the 10th Anniversary of Focus Features. They are posing for a camera phone photo by former colleague Glen Basner.
Universal Studios' merger of Good Machine and USA Films ten years ago this week signaled the end of a particular era of American independent filmmaking and the start of a new chapter that is still being written.
The modern era of American indies ignited with Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise in the mid-80s and exploded with the artistic and commercial success of films such as Slacker, Sex Lies and Videotape, Paris is Burning, Poison, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Clerks and more at the end of that decade and into the 90s. A peak moment came in 1994 with the debut of Pulp Fiction at Cannes and then the New York Film Festival. Along the way Good Machine—like Killer Films and Shooting Gallery—established itself as a go-to company for indie production in New York. Sure, Disney had already bought Miramax years before, but Universal's acquisition of Good Machine in 2002 marked the moment that, for better or worse, Hollywood fully embraced New York City's indie filmmaking scene.
Good Machine founders James Schamus (center) and Ted Hope (left)—pictured last night at a party celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Focus Features—raised a glass inside a room filled with close friends and colleagues. Christine Vachon, Anthony Bregman, Mary Jane Skalski, Jason Kliot & Joana Vicente, Ira Deutchman as well as Michael Barker and Tom Bernard from Sony Pictures Classics, producers and distributors who expanded the potential for specialty film joined the former Good Machine duo at last night's event. The small party at a modern French bistro across the street from MoMA was pegged to the opening of the museum's 10th anniversary salute to Focus Features this month.
A direct descendant of October Films, the landmark 90s indie distributor formed by Bingham Ray and Jeff Lipsky, Focus Features was created through a series of deals and mergers involving Universal Studios from 1997 to 2002. While Focus has West Coast offices at Universal Studios, its headquarters are the Bleeker St. offices once inhabited by October Films. So, as he raised a glass to toast the room last night, James Schamus reiterated the New York heart of his company and he acknowledged that pronounced absence of one key person: Bingham Ray.
Opening the series at MoMA, curator Larry Kardish noted that the company went to Cannes and made their first deal just a few weeks after announcing the Universal deal. This year they are heading to the French festival with an opening night slot for an upcoming film, Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom.