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Focus Features CEO James Schamus Fires Back at Reporter Over Milk

Milkpremiere

Towleroad has obtained the text of a letter Focus Features CEO James Schamus sent to the editor of The Hollywood Reporter in response to an article published today which appears to second-guess the marketing minds of the Milk filmmakers. The publication of the article*, timed, coincidentally or not, on the day that the politically-themed Milk is set to premiere, has Focus calling foul.

Above, the historic Castro Theatre, where Milk premieres tonight, as it looked this afternoon, sent to us by a reader.

*** TEXT OF LETTER FROM JAMES SCHAMUS TO HOLLYWOOD REPORTER***

To the Editor:

Slow news day, eh? As the CEO of Focus Features, I read with interest your October 28 front page article "Politics? Focus won't 'Milk' it," about our marketing of director Gus Van Sant's film about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to major public office in America. The author's thesis is simple: because the film was not, like “Brokeback Mountain,” screened at festivals, Focus is somehow hiding the film and is thus avoiding openly presenting its political content. That's a pretty serious charge, especially made by a reporter who did not call us to get his facts, so to speak, straight.

Continued AFTER THE JUMP...

First of all, to the charge of "hiding" the film (for which, given its post-production schedule, we have only had finished prints at hand for a couple of weeks - a fact conveniently missed by your reporter), I can only say that I happen to be writing this while on my way to the airport for a flight to San Francisco, where we shall world-premiere the film tonight at the Castro Theatre, across the street from the storefront where Harvey began his political career. We determined early on that the only appropriate place for the world premiere of “Milk” was San Francisco. The event is a benefit for four LGBT youth groups; our benefit committee is chaired by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, and includes every major LGBT leader in Northern California and virtually every major statewide elected official, including Senator Barbara Boxer, Assemblyman Mark Leno, and Treasurer José Cisneros. The premiere is timed to the final week before a crucial election, one which includes an anti-gay state proposition much like the one Harvey Milk vanquished 30 years ago. The after-screening gathering will be held at San Francisco's City Hall, and today has been proclaimed "Focus Features Day" by the Mayor – who clearly didn't get The Hollywood Reporter in time to understand our underhanded, apolitical approach to marketing the film.

Immediately on the heels of the premiere, a series of word-of-mouth screenings will be held over the next few weeks in every major city across the country. We will also be holding premieres of “Milk” in New York, Los Angeles, and Portland.

But if a journalist is to write about our marketing campaign, might he consider actually talking about...our marketing campaign? The trailer for “Milk,” for example (see it for yourself at www.milkthemovie.com) is, not just in my opinion, probably the most inspiring piece of movie marketing about genuine (as well as out) politics ever created. It has been the most explosively received and appreciated trailer in the history of our company, posted on hundreds of sites, and played and playing in theaters nationwide in front of more than a dozen movies.

Following the debut of that trailer way back on September 12, our marketing campaign mobilized an early online media push timed to all four presidential race debates – the mornings after, we had specially commissioned “Milk” ad buys on the political pages of the websites of The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, The Huffington Post, and many more. Our banner ads and 60-second spots were all about the film and what it and Harvey represent. Speaking of which, beyond the trailer, check out the rest of our website; it's already filled with scores of stories from people across the country, linking their own lives to Harvey Milk's transformational politics.

I expect that more thorough journalism on our “Milk” campaign will be published in THR soon.

James Schamus
New York City

*** END OF LETTER ***

The 'Milk' marketing conundrum [hollywood reporter]

For all of Towleroad's coverage on Harvey Milk the gay rights hero, as well as the film, click HERE.

*Note - the article appeared to be published online under a separate headline than the print edition.

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Comments

  1. I had the good fortune of working on a Schamus production bsck in 1991. He is the most intelligent and caring and ethical producer we are likely to ever see in this business.

    Look at all that he has brought foward representing the gay community and that of the independent film community in whole.

    It is outrageous to think that he would treat a project with anything but what will best deliver the author and directors intentions.

    Posted by: tim di | Oct 28, 2008 8:51:02 PM


  2. I think this attack on Focus Feature is pathetic. They are a great company. There are a lot of bad things I could say about Hollywood in general (especially on gay films) but I have nothing but praise for this company and their record.

    Posted by: akaison | Oct 28, 2008 9:13:24 PM


  3. of interest to this topic is the fact that although there will be screenings of the film this week, there is an embargo on writing about it until November 25th. Curious.

    Posted by: randy | Oct 28, 2008 9:19:44 PM


  4. Studios typically set review embargo dates timed to the wider release of the film for mainstream press. In the age of blogs, the effectiveness of that policy is debatable. It still exists widely, though.

    Posted by: Dan | Oct 28, 2008 9:26:06 PM


  5. There is very little mention of television buys in his letter. I do question this. Web media advertising is great for certain audiences, but television is still key if only to build hype and bring attention.

    Posted by: what | Oct 28, 2008 9:57:49 PM


  6. Great to hear Schamus clear it up, but, he needs to get some of his own "facts" gaily correct.

    There are many reasons to wish Harvey were still alive, and one of them includes what I'm sure would be his quickness to ask Schamus to stop perpetuating the myth that Harvey was the "first openly gay man elected to major public office in the US." That man, rather, was Allan Spear, who, after coming out in his first term, was reelected to the Minnesota state senate in 1976—a year before Harvey was elected city supervisor. And Allan, in turn, would acknowledge Elaine Noble who was elected to the Massachusetts state legislature in 1974. Harvey would have demanded respect for those gay men and lesbians who paved the way for him and others, and we should, too.

    Second, Harvey would have not claimed what Schamus asserts is his sole credit for having "vanguished" Prop 6 in 1978. Many other gays activists, including Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, Troy Perry, Leonard Matlovich, and Dave Kopay crisscrossed the state and country, inspiring opposition and raising money to defeat it.

    If Mr. Schamus cares so much about gay rights history he should care more about its facts and about respecting its other heroes. Harvey would.

    Posted by: Leland Frances | Oct 29, 2008 11:14:11 AM


  7. Are we to celebrate the fact that Cinemark was all too happy to make money from a gay themed movie? Now that they made their money off of "Brokeback Mountain" will they turn around and support those who spent their hard earned dollars. Of course not!

    Posted by: Raven | Nov 24, 2008 12:24:19 PM


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