BIZ: Shooting Gallery's Gamble Pays Off with "Croupier"
by Anthony Kaufman
Little film kicks box office butt. It's one of our favorite stories in indie-land. "Blair Witch" shook up the suits, made studios shift their release schedules, and confirmed that even the little guys could play the big distribution game. When simple word-of-mouth beats out $30 million marketing budgets, it is cause for celebration. And "Croupier," the new film from British veteran director Mike Hodges, marks just such a triumph.
Last weekend alone, the film ranked 20, according to Variety's Box Office Chart, and raked in $312,888 (just a few thousand dollars under "Viva Rock Vegas") for a cumulative gross of $1,527,703 for its 66 days in release -- "It'll be two million by the end of next week," adds Eamonn Bowles, Director of Acquisitions for The Shooting Gallery who released the film last April as part of the company's packaged film series, in conjunction with Loews Cineplex Entertainment, which gave six new films a guaranteed 2-week release in 17 cities across the country. "By far," says Bowles, "this one broke out better than any of them."
Starting in 19 theaters back on April 21, "Croupier" will break the 100-theater barrier this weekend, according to Bowles, with "around 115 screens" booking the biting tale about a misanthropic London croupier and would-be novelist caught in a web of deceit and self-loathing. The film stars sly up-and-comer Clive Owen as the writer/casino-worker in a celebrated performance -- and has raised the bar of the Shooting Gallery series to an unprecedented level.
"Croupier was really the ribbon on the package," says Bowles, but adds proudly that this weekend, all six films -- Eric Mendelsohn's "Judy Berlin" Peter Mullan's "Orphans," Sturla Gunnarsson's "Such A Long Journey," Liam McGrath's "Southpaw" and Shinobu Yaguchi's "Adrenaline Drive" -- will be playing somewhere in the U.S. this weekend -- a testament to the success of the chosen films which all out-lasted their 2-week scheduled runs.
"You make films and it's sort of like messages in bottles these days, so you're grateful if they ever get a release," Mike Hodges told indieWIRE in a phone call from his home in Dorset, England. "That's where they're meant to be seen, in the cinema, not on video or television."
Though the 67-year-old director is somewhat of a legend for his 1971 debut feature noir "Get Carter" and the 1980 camp classic "Flash Gordon," he hasn't had it easy getting his films to audiences. "You are in the hands of distributors and I think I have suffered rather badly in their hands," he says. Referring to his 1991 feature "Black Rainbow," which was acquired -- but never released in theaters -- by Miramax, he explains, "they were raving about the film for a year and then I got a phone call that it was on cable. So I wasn't going to let that happen again."
It was, however, very close to happening again with "Croupier." In the UK, where you would expect the film to have been a local hit -- with British critics praising the film right and left -- "it was basically thrown away," explains Hodges. "Film Four, who made it, weren't interested. When they changed management, it got lost in the shuffle."
It wasn't until the British Film Institute stepped in that "Croupier" got screen time in the UK. And then, it wasn't much of a release. "There was no trailer, half a poster, and there were only two prints, so it didn't stand much of a chance," says Hodges.
With the U.S. release, Hodges -- perhaps like the vengeful Michael Caine character in "Get Carter" -- has finally gotten even. "It's competing with big budget advertising campaigns, and it's finding audiences and they're telling each other about it. It's the best thing you could ever wish to happen," he says.
It's also a wish come true for The Shooting Gallery's bottom line. Providing "very modest upfront money" to the filmmakers and "a low distribution fee," says Bowles, "it's all structured to get us into a net profit situation as early as possible. With output deals on [cable movie station] Encore and a video output deal with Hollywood Video, we're in a good position."
But let's not forget the films. It's really a win-win situation. Because of advertising costs paid for by corporate sponsors, explains Bowles, "We're able to support the films much higher than a smaller distributor usually would. Basically, we're giving the films a realistic, full shot in the marketplace, a launching pad."
The Shooting Gallery Film series has turned out to be financially viable as well as fostering a little art on to a marketplace where the chances for "complex, challenging films has just been horrible," says Bowles. "Even the art film world has gotten sentimentalized and formulaic, there's no question about it. And the amount of money it takes to break through the noise is just staggering."
But the series has given everyone a little hope. It proves, says Bowles, "you can really take chances on films. . . . If they catch on, then we're poised to extend them and expand them." And as Hodges says quite simply, "There was nobody else and they've done it brilliantly."
Within the next couple weeks, The Shooting Gallery will announce its next slate of 6 films for the Fall edition of the series. "I think we're well on our way to turning this into a perennial," says Bowles.
Read indieWIRE's review of "Croupier" at: