By Indiewire | Indiewire August 21, 2000 at 2:0AM
"God's Army" Marches On with Mormon Niche
>> "God's Army" Marches On with Mormon Niche
(indieWIRE/ 8.21.00) -- We can all take a lesson from the Mormons -- or at least their niche distribution methods. "God's Army," an independently financed dramatic comedy about missionaries in Los Angeles, is nearing $2.3 million at the box office, as it opens in New York City this week, to be followed by an additional 30 cities around the country. Since its March 8 premiere back in the Mormon hotbed of Utah, the film has since traveled to 132 cities and 195 screens. While the film's tagline reads "Saving the World. One Soul at a Time," you might say, 'One Theater at a Time,' as it screens in limited slots around the country.
But hold on there. This is a serious religion, as Mary Jane Jones, Publicity and Promotions Director of Excel Entertainment Group, the company now distributing the film, will tell us. "We want to be careful not to ever commercialize the actual religion. Most of us here at Excel are members of the church and we treat it with the utmost respect. We look at it as celebrating the culture. We don't view this as exploiting the religion," she says. "We're not trying to sell God or anything."
A 5 year-old music production and distribution company, Excel is owned by Jeff Simpson, a former Disney executive. Until writer-producer-director-star Richard Dutcher came along with "God's Army," the company had never released a movie before, sticking to its 3 record labels which produced instrumental, inspirational, and contemporary music. Dutcher originally came to Excel to produce and release his soundtrack, but the company soon assumed a larger distribution role.
With a paltry $300,000 marketing budget, the company's campaign utilized low-cost promotional methods like the Internet and e-mail. "We try to do things as cheaply as possible," says Jones, "using as much groundswell support. We tried to create a lot of Internet interest with mass e-mailings and the film's website,"
(http://www.godsarmythemovie.com/), which Jones adds, garnered 300 e-mails daily, from people seeking more information about the film.
Targeting Utah's population is one thing, where the film beat out "Mission to Mars" in its opening week, according to Dutcher, but reaching the millions of Mormons around the country isn't as easy. If it were, the movie's box office receipts would be 10-fold its already auspicious number. So Excel holds advanced screenings in each city for select members of the community in order to get the word out. New York's screening, for instance, took place well in advance of its August 25 release back in July. "With a city like New York, or Philadelphia, or Miami," says Jones, "our approach is again to have these advanced screenings and get as much publicity in the press as we can using the novelty of the film as an angle." The film also gets a boost from Mormon bookstores around the country, which number about 300, according to Jones.
"God's Army" is only the latest film to turn a religious base into box office dollar. Remember "The Omega Code," the Christian suspense thriller, starring Caspar Van Dien and Catherine Oxenberg, which leapt onto the charts with $2.4 million in its opening weekend and eventually went on to gross around $13 million? Partly produced by TBN, the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the station broadcast trailers and promotional spots of "Omega," and had a $2 million ad campaign on cable, according to Variety.
Excel is no TBN, however, with neither the financial resources nor the powerful Christian Coalition behind it. But given time, Excel hopes to grow. "Now that we've created this means of distribution," says Jones, "we'd love to see more filmmakers making use of it." Filmmakers, it's time to start researching the Book of Mormon, there's a new distributor in town.