Focus Features president Peter Kujawski and vice president Jason Cassidy have decades of experience in the film industry. Some of their founding years were in New York, and now, as their company celebrates its 20th anniversary, the executives – now based in LA – are being honored with an industry award by the Gotham Prize. It came as studio drama tar led the event’s nominations (with five, including a nomination for best picture).
Before the ceremony, Kujawski and Cassidy talked to CHEAP about how their time in NYC has shaped their approach to film and why Focus still exists.
What does it mean to be honored by the Gotham Prize?
PETER KUJAWSKI We both come from the film business in New York and it’s a community that means a lot to us. This award may have our individual names on it but has more to do with Focus in general.
JASON CASSIDY Many of these award winners were previously key parts of the business, and it was a pleasure to be a part of that conversation.
What role does the city play in your career?
KUJAWSKI New York is where I found my passion and was my first mentor at James Schamus. In the early days of Focus, as a New York-based company, I think it was driven by the energy and ethos that have always been present in New York. That still drives what we do — a sense of possibility, energy, and a bit of detachment from the day-to-day business of the Hollywood movie industry — into something driven by an artist-first mentality. there.
CASSIDY It’s such a vibrant city that you feel part of the bold ideas, the new voices, the new perspectives. The indie film scene certainly reflects a lot on that, so it really opens your eyes to the possibilities that cinema can become.
tarstarring Cate Blanchett, is the most nominated film at the Gotham Awards and the studio’s coming-of-age drama. Armageddon time also nominated.
CASSIDY Those are just two great films by two very unique filmmakers, which is exactly why we’re in this business.
KUJAWSKI Both films, in their own right, actively examine the power structures of the modern world and ask audiences to think about and discuss that, and that’s always been a feature we very interested, it’s an ongoing cultural conversation.
How has the pandemic, in which Focus has enjoyed certain success with premium video on demand, tell your thoughts on the streaming vs theatrical debate?
CASSIDY It’s about getting people talking about movies in the world. Bringing audiences to the theater is the best way to do that, but at the same time, with PVOD, you can make choices for consumers. If they can’t make it to the theater, they can watch it later and that’s a big part of our business.
Focus is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. At that time, we saw special film companies come and go. Why do you think the studio suffered?
KUJAWSKI We know and are grateful that we are part of a larger, great company. The level of support and encouragement we receive from [Universal chairman] Donna Langley makes a bold bet on filmmakers saying something meaningful, different, and unique, it’s just luck. If you’re willing to try your hand at a story genre you’ve never seen on screen before, a point-of-view that pushes boundaries and asks more questions than it answers, then there’s an audience that wants the best. that movie.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the November 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter. Click here to sign up.