Who said the silent era was over? "Brand Upon the Brain!" inspired by avant-garde Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin's own childhood memories, debuted at the top of the indieWIRE Box Office Tracking Report (iWBOT) of independent/specialty films by grossing $46,412 over the weekend at City Cinema's Village East in Manhattan. The silent film was presented by Vitagraph Films like a concert or live theater event with an 11-piece orchestra, foley sound-effects team, onstage castrato and guest narrators like Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Crispin Glover, Isabella Rossellini and poet John Ashbery. Tickets were $30 in advance; $40 at the door.
The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available here at indieWIRE.com
The second-place film, mob/family drama "Brooklyn Rules," also followed a special-event strategy of sorts - it opened exclusively at the Columbus Theater in Providence, R.I., and earned $41,811. Meanwhile, First Look held firm at two New York theaters on "Paris Je T'aime," its multi-director collection of vignettes about the City of Lights, and saw gross actually creep upward to $20,247 per screen from the previous weekend's $19,621 per-screen average. Fox Searchlight's 61-theater expansion of Adrienne Shelly's "Waitress," fourth on the iWBOT with a $10,108 average, was a smashing success while Lionsgate's Sarah Polley-directed "Away From Her" stayed in the Top Ten (at eighth with a $5,751 average) while adding 41 sites. (Lionsgate also combined U.S. and Canadian playdates into one report.) And Dori Berinstein's documentary about Tony-nominated musicals, Regent Releasing's "Show Business," got off to a nice start with $8,829 at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema in Manhattan.
This weekend, the "Brand Upon the Brain!" extravaganza moves on to Chicago's Music Theatre with Glover as guest narrator. It'll be at L.A.'s Egyptian Theatre beginning June 8. David Shultz of Vitagraph Films said the event did so well he's thinking of also staging it in Seattle, Portland and Minneapolis.
Shultz said when the shows started last Wednesday, patrons were buying tickets for "Brand Upon the Brain!" at Village East, an old vaudeville house, based on the star power of the guest narrator. That produced a slow night - with Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson. "I was concerned the narrators were too eclectic," Shultz said. "But at the end of the week, we're right where we wanted to be. By the end, it was the event itself that people wanted to see. The producers wanted an old-style theatrical event with a circus atmosphere. And that's what worked. But the film works, too."
So far, the film - without all the hoopla but with a score by Jason Staczek - has been booked into 30-40 markets. It opens Friday at the Lincoln Plaza and Angelika in New York.
Before opening in Brooklyn - or anywhere else for that matter - "Brooklyn Rules" chose Providence. Buoyed by some good reviews, and perhaps by star Alec Baldwin's recent appearance in the headlines, it did very well last weekend. Playing ten times at the 800-seat Columbus Theater at $10 a ticket, it grossed $41,811.
"We chose to open 'Brooklyn Rules' in an exclusive engagement at the Columbus Theater in Providence, Rhode Island, as that is Corrente's hometown," said (via E-mail) Danny Fisher, CEO of distributor City Lights Pictures, which is reporting the film's numbers jointly with Slowhand Cinema. "I learned that strategy from executive-producing John Waters' 'A Dirty Shame' as his movies open in his hometown, Baltimore, the week prior to the broader opening. I thought that was a great way to establish the movie's strength with audiences and also offer audiences there an opportunity to meet the movie's director. The audience in Providence loved the movie." The movie expands to eight screens this Friday by opening in New York, Los Angeles and Boston.
While exclusive releases topped this week's iWBOT, real money was starting to be made by "Waitress," which looks like Fox Searchlight's latest breakout hit. Jumping from four screens in New York and L.A. to 65 in the Top 25 markets, it produced the kind of per-engagement gross that most exclusive runs would envy. And it netted $656,988 over the weekend, the most of any film on the chart. Those numbers do not include the money earned at Mother's Day matinee sneaks in 30 other markets. The film - which deftly mixes humor, drama and fanciful pie recipes - proved itself a major mother-daughter draw, based on the weekend returns.
Showing its potential with upscale urban/suburban audiences, "Waitress"'s Saturday business increased 75.8% over Friday's while Sunday's was down just 18.2% from Saturday's. Business was only down 16% in the four holdover theaters in New York and L.A., despite expansions. And its two best runs in the country were at unexpected sites - Laemmle's Pasadena Playhouse 7 ($23,000) and University Town Center in Irvine, Calif. ($22,478).
"Obviously it's performing very well with women but anecdotal evidence indicates men like it, too," said Stephen Gilula, Fox Searchlight's chief operating officer. So far, all the runs have been in either art houses or upscale multiplexes and the latter have done so well that "it looks like it will cross over to a mainstream audience," Gilula said.
Meanwhile, Gilula pointed out, Mira Nair's "The Namesake" crossed the $12 million mark over the weekend, making the Fox Searchlight release the most successful platformed indie/specialty title of the year. The company also is releasing John Carney's "Once," a romantic mood piece about an Irish musician, this week. "We're busy," he said.
The 76 films on the iWBOT generated $3.61 million from 2,205 screens, up sharply from the previous weekend's $2.93 million generated by 76 titles at 1,929 screens. The per-site average was $1,637; still soft but climbing from the previous $1,519 as movies like "Waitress" and "Away From Her" expand.
Steven Rosen is a Cincinnati-based freelance writer and former Denver Post movie critic.
indieWIRE:BOT tracks independent/specialty releases compiled from Rentrak Theatrical, which collects studio reported data as well as box-office figures from North American theatre locations. To be included in the indieWIRE Box Office Chart, distributors must submit information about their films to Rentrak at firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of the day each Monday.