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iW BOT | "Paprika" Debuts Strong; "Waitress" A Big Hit, "Chalk" A Grassroots Standout

By Indiewire | Indiewire May 31, 2007 at 3:49AM

Size matters in terms of studio tent-pole releases. Case in point: a reported take of $142 million over the four-day Memorial Day weekend made "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" a record-breaker. "Pirates" played in 4,362 sites - the widest release of any motion picture - and it made a whopping $32,554 per screen. It's standard summer movie news as far as Hollywood pundits are concerned. On the independent side of the theatrical fence, mini-major film companies such as Sony Pictures Classics and Fox Searchlight and smaller distributors like Arts Alliance America work on a mini business model involving fewer prints, less venues and in most cases, very limited ad budgets. To achieve success, every booking has to deliver, which makes an art-house hit like Fox Searchlight's "Waitress," the late filmmaker/actress Adrienne Shelly's feel-good drama about an unhappy waitress (Keri Russell) looking to leave her cruel husband, a success story of blockbuster proportions.
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Size matters in terms of studio tent-pole releases. Case in point: a reported take of $142 million over the four-day Memorial Day weekend made "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" a record-breaker. "Pirates" played in 4,362 sites - the widest release of any motion picture - and it made a whopping $32,554 per screen. It's standard summer movie news as far as Hollywood pundits are concerned. On the independent side of the theatrical fence, mini-major film companies such as Sony Pictures Classics and Fox Searchlight and smaller distributors like Arts Alliance America work on a mini business model involving fewer prints, less venues and in most cases, very limited ad budgets. To achieve success, every booking has to deliver, which makes an art-house hit like Fox Searchlight's "Waitress," the late filmmaker/actress Adrienne Shelly's feel-good drama about an unhappy waitress (Keri Russell) looking to leave her cruel husband, a success story of blockbuster proportions.

The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available here at indieWIRE.com

Fox Searchlight expanded "Waitress" to 510 theaters May 25 and carved out the number five overall box office slot with a $4 million box office ($7,843 per screen), reaching a total of $6.5 million after four weeks in platform release. "Waitress" expands to 605 locations Friday, deepening its run in cities like Columbus, Chicago and Houston.

"We are at a loss to compare another film that plays so broadly and so deeply as "Waitress,"" says Steve Gilula, Chief Operating Officer at Fox Searchlight. "This film is attracting audiences everywhere. I suppose the best comparison is "My Big Fat Greek Wedding.""

Fox Searchlight enjoyed double holiday weekend success thanks to another one of its Sundance Film Festival buys, "Once," Irish filmmaker John Carney's Dublin-set, musical romance, which earned $435,958 (a whopping $21,798 per screen) in only twenty locations. "Once" adds runs Friday in various cities including Philadelphia, Seattle and Minneapolis.

The holiday weekend, per-location, box office champ is decidedly youthful, going to Sony Pictures Classics' Japanimation feature "Paprika," director/co-writer Satashi Kon's follow-up to the equally acclaimed "Tokyo Godfathers" and "Perfect Blue." "Paprika," about a pretty psychiatrist with the ability to enter peoples' dreams, earned an impressive $45,429 on only two New York City art-house locations. "Paprika" expands Friday to additional markets, including Los Angeles and Boston.

The top live-action, foreign-language film is Miramax Films' "Golden Door" ("Nuovomondo"), featuring singer/actress Charlotte Gainsburg in a tale of early 19th-century immigrants coming to America. "Golden Door" opened on two screens in New York and earned an impressive $37,947 ($18,974 per location). Miramax expands to three screens Friday, adding one venue in Los Angeles.

Making the most of its exclusive showing at New York's IFC Film Center is Lars von Trier's foreign-language comedy "The Boss of it All," earning $10,052. Less popular in its debut is Sony Pictures Classics "Angel A," a stylish, black-and-white, Paris-set romance from veteran filmmaker Luc Besson, which earned $37,730 on seven screens in New York and Los Angeles for a pre-location average of $5,605. More successful at attracting audiences is "Paris, Je T'Aime," a film of eighteen separate stories set in Paris. The First Look Studios release earned an additional $550,796 dollars in its fourth week in theaters on 58 screens towards a total box office of $896,808.

While "Paprika" and "Golden Door" enjoys success in traditional art-house venues, "Waitress" is something of a crossover hit, meaning a release playing equally well on conventional multiplexes as well as traditional art houses. In Houston, "Waitress" broke the $20,000 box office mark at both the eclectic Angelika as well as Regal's Greenway Palace 24, where it placed third directly behind "Pirates" and "Shrek the Third." The same release strategy is true for Lionsgate's "Away From Her," a drama from first-time feature filmmaker Sarah Polley about an elderly wife (Julie Christie) dealing with a crippling illness. "Away from Her" continues to do strong business, earning an additional $947,459 at 256 locations, bringing its total slightly to $2,568,800.

In terms of a true independent, the standout story is "Chalk," a documentary-like comedy about schoolteachers from Someday Soon Productions. "Chalk" earned an impressive $18,974 per its three locations for a weekend total of $32,455. "Chalk" opens Friday in San Diego and St. Louis. "This is a pure grassroots campaign directed at teachers and administrators who have come out in drives to see this film," exclaims Joe Amodei, President of Arts Alliance America. "We are offering an alternative to the big budget bores that take over just about ever screen out there these days." Equally impressive is the Indian immigrant comedy "Americanizing Shelley," which earned $9,691 from its one location.

Coming up Friday, Picturehouse opens "Gracie" on 1160 screens, the majority of them being conventional multiplexes. Director Timur Bekmambetov's Russian-language fantasy film "Day Watch" ("Dnevnoi Dozor") a sequel to his 2004 film "Night Watch," opens in three cities, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. "Crazy Love," director Dan Klores' good time documentary about the fifty-year love affair between lying husband Burt Pugach and his beautiful girlfriend Linda Riss, opens in New York on three screens.

Just as the studios have more summer tent poles in the pipeline, there are also heavily anticipated art-house releases forthcoming. Paramount Vantage has its Angelina Jolie drama "A Mighty Heart" in theaters on June 22 with Michael Moore's health care documentary "Sicko" later in June.

Just as important as the films this weekend is the addition of a new art-house venue to showcase them. Twelve screens at the new Landmark West Los Angeles launches, creating what Gilula, a Landmark Theatre executive before his tenure at Fox Searchlight, calls the ability to expand and extend the runs of art films in Los Angeles similar to Manhattan. Imagine: Los Angeles catching up to Manhattan in terms of art-house box office. That's blockbuster news for everyone.


Steve Ramos is a Cincinnati based writer.

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 studiogrosses@rentrak.com by the end of the day each Monday.