Just six years old and Focus Features has made quite a name for itself. As the production company behind films like The Constant Gardener, Lost in Translation and Atonement, it is known for producing the best of the best and it is no surprise that the man behind the company, writer/producer James Schamus has been chosen to receive the Trailblazer Award at this year’s Woodstock Film Festival.
Serving as the CEO of Focus Features is simply the cherry on top of a long and very successful career. Schamus’ current job is not his first foray into the life of a film executive. Prior to working at Focus he was co-president of independent production company Good Machine for 11 years, during which he helped produce more than 40 films. While working at Good Machine he continued to make movies of his own—collaborating on 10 films with Ang Lee—and won numerous awards, including the award for Best Screenplay at the 1997 Cannes International Film Festival for The Ice Storm.
Though his importance in the film world is clear from his resume, the co-founder and executive director of the Woodstock Film Festival, Meira Blaustein, explains why Schamus was chosen as this year’s recipient. “The award was created with the intention of honoring those who have taken an innovative and transforming approach in the film industry. Mr. Schamus surpasses those objectives. The fact the he has exhibited excellence in both business and creativity sets him apart from all his peers.” Schamus in turn expressed his gratitude and admiration for the festival, saying, “I’m touched to be receiving this honor from one of my very favorite film festivals—one that carries on the spirit of adventure and discovery that characterizes its hometown.”
Even with such an illustrious career and so many awards behind him (besides the Trailblazer Award he was named the 2006 Presidential Fellow in the Humanities at the University of Chicago and received the Writers Guild of America, East’s 2003 Richard B. Jablow Award) Schamus continues to strive forward. Besides his CEO duties, he is currently a professor of film history and theory at Columbia University and wrote the screenplay for Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock, which is scheduled to start filming shortly.