James Schamus makes directorial debut with 'Indignation'
James Schamus was a successful producer of independent films with his company, Good Machine, and then as the CEO of art-house label Focus Features for 13 years. In 2013, he was fired and decided to try something new. Schamus tells us about calling the shots on his directorial debut, Indignation.
As head of Focus Features for 13 years, James Schamus released such movies as Lost in Translation, Brokeback Mountain and The Kids are Alright. But in 2013, he was fired -- and emboldened to direct his first film. His new feature, Indignation, is based on a Philip Roth novel. He tells us about taking a career leap at age 56, and why he doesn't believe in asking for advice.
Photo: Director James Schamus (L) and actor Logan Lerman on the set of Indignation. (Alison Cohen Rosa/Roadside Attractions)
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'Indignation' director James Schamus
20 MIN, 15 SEC
James Schamus has long been a huge figure in the world of independent film. In the early 1990's he and Ted Hope founded the production company Good Machine, where they released movies which launched the careers of directors like Ang Lee and Todd Haynes. After Universal bought the company in 2001, Schamus set off on a solid run as CEO of the studio's art-house label, Focus Features.
There Schamus oversaw the production and release of such films as Lost in Translation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Brokeback Mountain. But in 2013, Universal fired him and, for a time, decided to transform Focus into a genre label.
So rather than sit in his pajamas, as he puts it, Schamus decided -- in his mid-fifties -- to try something new: directing a full-length feature film. And he didn't pick easy material.Indignation is based on a Philip Roth novel, set in 1951, as the Korean war rages.
The film's protagonist is Marcus Messner, a brilliant Jewish boy from New Jersey who wins a scholarship to a small Christian college in Ohio. Not only does this allow Marcus, played by Logan Lerman, to escape a life working in his father's butcher shop, it also enables him to avoid the draft. But once he gets to college, he finds a complicated, political world that proves difficult to navigate. He also falls hard for his beautiful classmate Olivia, played by Sarah Gadon.
Schamus tells us how he first encountered the novel, and how he came to be the one to adapt and direct it. He also shares why he opted to fill his cast with award-winning Broadway actors instead of going the Hollywood route. And while Schamus is known for writing scripts, he also writes song lyrics, as he did in one instance for a song in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and again in Indignation, writing the words to "Is it Love?" -- the song that plays on the car radio during Marcus's first date with Olivia.