indieWIRE EDITORIAL: Sifting Through Weekly Box-Office Numbers
Today we are launching indieWIRE:BOT™ (Box Office Table) which was born out of extensive (and often heated) discussions within indieWIRE about how box-office grosses are relevant and useful (if at all) to the independent film community. indieWIRE:BOT™ will track box-office figures for independent and specialty films and rank these movies by their weekend per-screen average.
While box-office information is typically presented in the context of gross sales, we believe that this places an overemphasis on revenues and is unfairly weighted to benefit the distributors that have booked the most screens, not necessarily the most popular films that are causing a stir at a limited number of theaters.
indieWIRE:BOT™ shows this past week’s box-office grosses in an easy to read, comparative format. Unlike other box office charts, iW:BOT™ ranks films based on the per-screen average because we believe that is the most significant indicator of a film’s impact at a given moment in time. This metric is the true indicator of a film’s strength in the consciousness of film-goers at a given moment and, over time, of the momentum and position in a film’s theatrical life-cycle. It is a snapshot of a film’s current comparative popularity, and its current brand consciousness, rather than providing a scorecard of a distributor’s bottom line.
We also think that the per-screen average is a more “indie friendly” comparative metric — this is one category where the truly independent company, showing on only one screen, could go to bat with a huge indie with ubiquitous screenings across the nation. For example, if we had sorted this week’s chart by weekend grosses, the top five offerings would be from Miramax, Fox, Lions Gate, Paramount Classics, and Focus. Instead, our top five represents a wider mix of indies of all sizes: Sony Pictures Classics, Palm Pictures, IFC, Miramax, and Wellspring.
An interesting past example is Sandi Dubowski’s “Trembling Before G-d,” which opened in October 2001. The film maintained a double-digit per-screen average for its first six weeks in release on its way to earning nearly $800,000 in the United States theatrically. As Dubwoski explained to us, it was his high averages in New York early during the release that led to greater committments from theaters in other cities. The film played for more than a year and had solid per-screen numbers throughout its run, even when it was in smaller venues. Of course, our tracking does not cover the activity that documentaries can find in non-theatrical venues (“Trembling” has made another $200,000 in non-theatrical and Canadian bookings).
All indieWIRE box-office information is drawn from figures and information submitted to us by distribution companies. We also regularly receive grosses from self-distributing filmmakers as well. iW:BOT™ and its accompanying column is designed, as is our new weekly email newsletter, to keep you informed of the latest and most relevant information about your colleagues and members of our community.