James Schamus - Writer

Producer and Writer. Nationality: American. Born: Detroit, Michigan, 7 September 1959. Family: Married Nancy Jean Kricorian; children: Nona Esther, Djuna Mariam. Education: University of California at Berkeley, A.B., 1982, M.A., 1984. Career: Assistant professor, Columbia University, 1991–97; associate professor, Columbia University, New York, from 1997; co-president, Good Machine, New York, from 1990. Awards: Brian Greenbaum award, 1994; Best Screenplay, Cannes Film Festival, for The Ice Storm , 1997. Address: Good Machine, 417 Canal Street, 4th Floor, New York, NY, 10013–1902, U.S.A.

Films as Producer:


The Golden Boat (Ruiz)


Ambition (Hartley); Thank You and Good Night (Oxenberg); Poison (Haynes) (exec)


Tui shou ( Pushing Hands ) (Lee) (+ sc); Warrior: The Life of Leonard Peltier (Baer) (exec); Swoon (Kalin) (exec); In the Soup (Rockwell) (assoc); I Was on Mars (Levy) (line)


Hsi yen ( The Wedding Banquet ) (Lee) (+ sc); Dottie Gets Spanked (Haynes—for TV) (coordinating)


Roy Cohn/Jack Smith (Godmilow); Yin shi nan nu ( Eat Drink Man Woman ) (Lee) (assoc + sc); What Happened Was. . . (Noonan) (exec)


Sense and Sensibility (Lee) (co-pr); The Brothers McMullen (Burns) (exec); Safe (Haynes) (exec)


She's the One (Burns); Walking and Talking (Holofcener)


Arresting Gena (Weyer) (exec); Love God (Grow) (exec); The Myth of Fingerprints (Freundlich) (exec); Office Killer (Sherman) (exec); The Ice Storm (Lee) (+ sc)


Happiness (Solondz) (exec)


The Lifestyle (Schisgall) (exec); Lola and Bilidikid ( Lola and Billy the Kid ) (Ataman) (exec); Ride with the Devil (Lee) (+ sc)


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Lee) (exec + sc)

Films as Writer:


X-Men (Singer) [uncredited]


On SCHAMUS: articles—

Magnegard, C., "Hip-Mogulen," in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 34, no. 3, 1992.

Alexander, M., "Above the Line," in Variety (New York), vol. 354, no. 4, 28 February 1994.

* * *

As an associate professor of film at Columbia University, James Schamus has taught everything from film theory, to the films of Carl Theodor Dreyer, to popular genres like film noir and the Western. The diversity of his interests in the world of cinema is equally apparent in the work he has done within the industry. Although Schamus has become a leading figure in the world of independent film, he has also worked steadfastly to bring such independent film to a larger audience, often working with major studios and distributors to get small, and at times markedly experimental independents to as many screens as possible. And as both a producer and a writer, Schamus has helped to prove the commercial and popular viability of independent film.

In 1991, James Schamus began the production company Good Machine with Ted Hope, with whom he had worked with as a freelance script reader for New Line Cinema. Among the company's first productions was Ang Lee's Tui shou ( Pushing Hands ) which failed to gain U.S. distribution. But when Lee's next picture, His yen ( The Wedding Banquet ), grossed $7.5 million in the United States and more than four times that in foreign revenues, Schamus and Hope learned the importance of the foreign market, especially in the marketing of independent film. Since then, Good Machine, Intl., has become a significant force in international sales and marketing of films, even becoming October Film's agent for foreign sales. The revenue from these sales has allowed Schamus and Good Machine to make further inroads into Hollywood filmmaking, and has given them the clout to back adventurous and sometimes controversial pictures like Todd Haynes' Poison , Tom Kallin's Swoon , and Todd Solondz's Happiness. As much success as earlier productions may have had, Ang Lee's 1995 film version of Sense and Sensibility was a watershed for Good Machine and co-producer Schamus, garnering seven Academy Awards nominations (including a win for Emma Thompson's screenplay adaptation of the Jane Austen novel) and a greater commercial viability for the production company. The door was now open for Schamus and Good Machine to produce major studio films like The Ice Storm and Ride with the Devil , which while unquestionably Hollywood films, still maintain an element of the independent spirit by which Schamus made his name.

As a writer, Schamus has collaborated extensively with Ang Lee in creating uncommonly quiet films. In an industry wherein flamboyance often seems the norm, Schamus's films demonstrate a striking understatement. His first three writing credits, which he shares with Lee, were the "Taiwanese trilogy" consisting of Tui shou ( Pushing Hands ), His yen ( The Wedding Banquet ), and Yinshi nan nu ( Eat Drink Man Woman ). Each of these films explores the breakdown of communications that occurs between both generations and cultures. Consequently the scripts are spare, letting silence speak as much as any words might. Schamus continued with a variation on this theme with his next screenplay, an adaptation of Rick Moody's novel The Ice Storm which likewise deals with intergenerational alienation, this time in the 1970s in New Canaan, Connecticut. In this, Schamus and Lee's first American collaboration, however, the taciturn characters are replaced by characters who generally speak incessantly, but without saying much of substance. Still, Schamus skillfully uses silence. The last fifteen minutes of the film are, in fact, virtually silent, and it is only when this silence becomes paramount to the rhetoric of politics and pop psychology that the familial bonds of the movie's characters are reaffirmed.

Schamus followed up The Ice Storm with two more Lee directed scripts, the Civil War epic Ride with the Devil , based on Daniel Woodrell's novel Woe to Live On , and the martial arts period piece Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. These films mark a departure for both Schamus and Lee, demonstrating an action aesthetic unhinted at in their earlier collaborations. But in Ride with the Devil , impressive as the action scenes may be, it is their contrast with the quieter moments of interpersonal communication, written in striking period-accurate dialect, which truly drive the emotional impact of the film. Ultimately, the mixture of tones in the picture might well be reflective of the entirety of James Schamus's work in film, which seeks to balance the world of independent film with the business of Hollywood.

—Marc Oxoby

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