Acquisitions executive; Lost in Translation pursuer; y habla español también
If you were drawing up a short list of the movies that grabbed the hearts and minds of New York’s media elite this year, Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, François Ozon’s Swimming Pool and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s 21 Grams would all place. Oscar speculation aside, these were movies that felt fresh and aware of the world in which they were made.
And if you were looking for one person who was involved in putting all three of those movies into theaters, you would look no further than the Noho office of Focus Features executive Amy Kaufman, a 31-year-old acquisitions executive with great taste in filmmakers and smart ideas for bringing them into Focus’ fold.
Since being named Focus’ executive vice president of acquisitions and co-production in August 2002, Ms. Kaufman has put her degree in international relations from the University of Pennsylvania to good use. She played key roles in securing domestic-distribution rights for Swimming Pool and 21 Grams, and solidified a business relationship between Focus and Pedro Almodovar’s production company, El Deseo. Most importantly, she cannily parlayed Focus’ foreign-distribution rights for Lost in Translation into the coveted job of distributing the film domestically, a coup that should mean dividends for the company come Oscar-nomination time.
“I love the filmmakers that I work with,” gushed Ms. Kaufman from behind her desk. She wore green cargo pants, a snazzy black pullover and her wavy hair below shoulder length. “I see myself not only as a tastemaker, but someone who has a good sense of what the marketplace is like.”
The Needham, Mass., native’s understanding of the marketplace began with an internship at MGM, followed by a stint as an assistant to producer Scott Rudin. From there she moved to Miramax, where she met her mentor, David Linde, who brought Ms. Kaufman with him when he moved to independent-film pioneers James Schamus and Ted Hope’s company, Good Machine, where he ran the international division. There, Ms. Kaufman-who is fluent in Spanish-served as the executive producer of Alfonso Cuaron’s Y Tu Mamá, También and learned from Mr. Schamus’ 11-year relationship with director Ang Lee, and from Good Machine’s motto, that good business meant good relationships with filmmakers, not necessarily paying top dollar for them. When Mr. Schamus and Mr. Linde moved to Focus, Ms. Kaufman followed. “James and I have an innate trust in Amy’s taste in talent,” Mr. Linde said. “She’s also a tiger.”
Back in 2002, Ms. Coppola set out to finance Lost in Translation by selling international rights to the film in advance. The company acquired the foreign-distribution rights to the film in all countries save for France and Japan. According to Ms. Coppola’s agent, Bart Walker, when it came time to make a deal on the North American rights, Ms. Kaufman “kept other companies away,” ultimately creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. “It was very cagey and skillful,” he said.
Mr. Linde hinted that Ms. Kaufman would be assuming a more production-oriented role in the near future, meaning perhaps a title that is smaller in length but bigger in heft.
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