After three weekends of promising grosses from screenings in Seattle, Portland, and the San Francisco area, Tom Shadyac’s “I Am” opens in Los Angeles today, continuing what has a proved to be a uniquely successful manner of release. “I Am” has totaled $70,196 so far, impressive for a film that has never been on more than 5 screens at any given time. For Shadyac, however, it represents a tiny fraction compared to the films most know him for, from Jim Carrey comedies “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” “Liar Liar” and “Bruce Almighty,” to “Patch Adams” and “The Nutty Professor.” Clearly, “I Am” has little in common with those films.
A very personal documentary, it begins with Shadyac recounting what happened to him after a cycling accident left him incapacitated. He emerged from the accident with a new sense of purpose, thus leading him to the material at the core of “I Am”: a discussion with various intellectual and spiritual leaders – including David Suzuki, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Lynne McTaggart, Ray Anderson, John Francis, Coleman Barks, and Marc Ian Barasch – about what’s wrong with our world and how we can improve the way we live in it. It has struck a chord with audiences, many of whom have had the opportunity to speak with Shadyac after the screening.
“People have been falling in love with the film for months now,” Mark Urman, head of “I Am” distributor Paladin, told indieWIRE. “We have screened it at literally dozens of festivals and schools and, in each instance, Tom has been there at the end of the screening.” Urman added, “When he takes the stage, people feel as if they already know him, and a love fest ensues. He’s had the most amazing Q & A sessions, with standing ovations and, quite literally, group hugs.”
Paladin began the release strategy three weekends ago, when the film saw a $10,092 gross from its lone cinema in Portland, which hosted multiple sold out shows and standing ovations in just a 140-seat theater. The following weekend, it expanded to Seattle, where it took in $17,500, marking one of the strongest openings of a documentary in Seattle during the past year, second only to “Waiting for Superman.” The strategy continued to San Francisco the following weekend, and moves to Los Angeles this weekend.
“Because it’s a film all about finding alternative ways of living, I felt it behooved me to release it in an alternative manner,” Urman said. “We turned things inside out and upside down–which is sort of what happened to Tom. We went West to East, which is far from customary, starting in Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco, and only then will we go to LA and New York.” Urman explained that the approach sticks close to Shadyac’s personal vision for it. “Since its important for Tom to take the film on the road, we’re going slowly by necessity, tackling new markets on a weekly basis into April,” he said. “But, given the performance, we are going to have to change that plan soon. Tom jokes that his last film played 3000 screens in one week and that this film can do the same–except it will take 3000 weeks!”
“I Am” should easily end up becoming Paladin’s top grossing film (currently, last year’s “The Greatest” has that honor, having grossed $114,766). The company was formed in the summer of 2009 by Mark Urman, who co-founded and headed THINKFilm for its entire seven-year existence, after previously serving as President of Lions Gate Releasing and, more recently, President of Senator Distribution. He was first invited to a screening of “I Am” last summer in New York by CAA.
“It was a typical distributor’s screening in that everyone in the room did the same thing I do for a living, more or less, and we all knew our involvement in the film was mutually exclusive,” he explained. “I spoke to Tom shortly thereafter on the phone and told him how excited and entertained I was by the film. A teleconference followed and then, finally, a personal meeting in LA.” The conversations continued, and a working relationship emerged. “Each time we talked, we found more and more common ground and, eventually, we decided we could work together to take his film out theatrically,” Urman said. “I have always tried to customize my release plans and campaigns to suit the film at hand. In that sense, ‘I Am’ is no different from any other successful film I’ve ever distributed. You have to listen to a film, and it will tell you what to do.”
For more information of when “I Am” might be screening in your market, click here.