By Jon Carnegie



logo [1]

1540 2nd Street
Suite 200
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Key Executives

Peter Schlessel

Peter Schlessel
– courtesy of



Graham King - courtesy of

Graham King
– courtesy of


Tim Headington

Tim Headington
– courtesy of



FilmDistrict was founded in September 2010 by CEO Peter Schlessel along with GK Film’s Graham King and Tim Headington. Described by its website as “a leading independent distribution, acquisition, co-production and feature film financing entity, designed to bring commercially viable films to targeted audiences across the United States” [5], FilmDistrict focuses primarily on producing diverse, wide-release films with high-profile casts. Since the company is independently owned, it is allowed to be flexible in today’s competitive marketplace and distribute the films it chooses to. Their first pick-up was the 2011 film “Soul Surfer“, based on the true story of Bethany Hamilton who “lost her arm in a shark attack and then overcame the odds to once again become a surfing champion” [6]. During the first three years FilmDistrict’s Schlessel “forged several partnerships to release FilmDistrict titles, partnering with TriStar on “Soul Surfer” and “Looper” and with Open Road on “Lockout” and “Red Dawn“” [11].

The company had a stellar 2011, selling nearly 16 million tickets, and releasing a string of successful films including Insidious, Drive, and Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut In the Land of Blood and Honey [7].FilmDistrict had a very quiet 2012, releasing only two films for an annual profit of $17 million [7].

Earlier this year the company promoted a trio of executives: Beth Lemberger, Brad Goldberg and Anjay Nagpal (to the positions of “executive VP of business affairs…VP of media and digital” and “senior VP of finance and business development”) [8]. In June, the company acquired the rights to the Elton John biopic “Rocketman” for $10 million [13]. On the box-office side, the company has had a stellar year thus far, grossing over $200 million, thanks mainly in part to their release Olympus Has Fallen [7] and “blowing past expectations” with Insidious 2‘s opening weekend gross of $40 million [9].


However, in October, a massive shake-up occurred at Focus Features with former CEO James Schamus being let go by Universal Pictures (their parent company) after 11 years on the job. Peter Schlessel, CEO and co-founder of FilmDistrict, will succeed Schamus at Focus Features, with FilmDistrict being absorbed by Focus, thus no longer “being a brand unto itself” but will live only through its existing titles [10] . [18] [18]

Universal president Donna Langley declared the acquisition of FilmDistrict to be “a tremendous asset” to Focus “as the company broadens its portfolio beyond the production and distribution of specialty product” [10]. Many are worried that Focus will now become a more commercial-minded company with FilmDistrict’s acquisition, Variety writer Dave McNary states “While Focus has sometimes struggled with films that didn’t crossover from arthouses, FilmDistrict has made a specialty of releasing low-to-medium budget actioners that often saw solid returns, sometimes with prestige elements such as Spike Lee’s upcoming Korean remake “Oldboy[11]. The loss of FilmDistrict is a blow to the indie film community which “looked to FilmDistrict as a valuable alternative to small specialty distribs and blockbuster-focused studios” [11]. FilmDistrict will cease operations after January 2014, with Spike Lee’s upcoming remake of the 2003 South Korean revenge film Oldboy being their last major release. The majority of FilmDistrict’s staff will follow Schlessel to Focus, and in some cases, replace, the majority of Focus Features’ staff including “Adrian Alperovich, who will continue his role for Focus as chief operating officer. Christine Birch, who also comes from FilmDistrict, will join Focus as marketing prexy, while Jim Orr and Lia Buman transition to Focus from FilmDistrict as heads of distribution and acquisitions, respectively” [12].


In their first full year as a film distribution company, FilmDistrict grossed $126,079,416 selling nearly 16 million tickets with a 1.24% market share. In 2012 the number dropped significantly, due to a smaller amount of film releases that year (these films also skewed more towards the independent side, which may have played a factor); their numbers in 2012 amounted to a profit of $17,260,217 with 2.1 million tickets sold and a market share of 0.16%. 2013 has undoubtedly been the company’s strongest financial year thus far and, due to the upcoming acquisition by Focus, will be their swan song as well. This year so far, the company has grossed a profit of $210,933,633 with nearly 26 million tickets and a market share of 2.29%. [7]

Film Releases


Olympus Has Fallen poster


Olympus Has Fallen

Directed by Antoine Fuqua, this film stars Gerard Butler as “disgraced former Presidential guard Mike Banning” as he must rescue the President, played by Morgan Freeman, from terrorist kidnappers. [19]

Insidious: Chapter 2

Insidious: Chapter 2 poster

Insidious: Chapter 2 poster


The sequel to the very successful horror film from 2011 continues as the “haunted Lambert family seeks to uncover the mysterious childhood secret that has left them dangerously connected to the spirit world”. [20]

Oldboy (2013) poster -

Oldboy (2013) poster-

2013 has been a successful year for FilmDistrict’s releases with Olympus Has Fallen (a disaster movie set in The White House and starring Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, and Gerard Butler) and Insidious 2 (the sequel to the highly-successful 2011 horror film, with Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson returning as the protagonists) grossing about $182 million total by themselves [7].

This year, in addition to those films, the company has also released the following films: Parker (starring Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez), Dead Man Down (starring Colin Farrell), and the new remake of the Evil Dead franchise [16]. The final upcoming films for FilmDistrict will be the romantic comedy Walk of Shame (out March 14, 2014), Pompeii (February 28, 2014), and the Spike Lee-directed remake Oldboy (out this Thanksgiving weekend, starring Josh Brolin). The latter, as well as the romcom film That Awkward Moment, will be handled by FilmDistrict, while the former two films will be distributed and promoted by Focus Features. [11] In a short amount of time, merely a few years, FilmDistrict made an impact on the film business, offering an alternative for independent filmmakers while also distributing high-budget works to provide a unique balance in the industry.


[1] FilmDistrict Site

[2] Peter Schlessel

[3] Graham King

[4] Tim Headington

[5] About FilmDistrict

[6] Soul Surfer

[7] FilmDistrict’s Box-Office Numbers

[8] Execs Promoted (Variety)

[9] Insidious 2 Opening Weekend

[10] Focus Features Acquisition

[11] FilmDistrict’s DNA to Get Makeover

[12] Focus Team to Receive FilmDistrict’s execs

[13] Acquisition of Rocketman

[14] Insidious 2 Poster

[15] Olympus Has Fallen Poster

[16] FilmDistrict’s Filmography

[17] Oldboy Poster

[18] Focus/FilmDistrict poster

[19] IMDB: Olympus Has Fallen

[20] IMDB: Insidious Chapter 2

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