Two studio specialty-film units - Fox Searchlight and Focus Features - took two very different approaches to opening their new comedies "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Scoop" last weekend and both worked, according to the latest indieWire Box Office Tracking Report (iWBOT) of independent/specialty films. At the same time, several true independents had top five results with their films "Another Gay Movie" (TLA Releasing), "13 (Tzameti)" and "Wondrous Oblivion" (both Palm Pictures), and "Changing Times" (Koch Lorber Films).
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The iWBOT is based on the per-location grosses of films, which sometimes but is not always the same as per-screen average. Numbers are provided by Rentrak Theatrical.
Fox Searchlight's "Little Miss Sunshine" led the iWBOT with a $52,969 per-location average at seven theaters in New York and L.A. That just topped the $52,585 average for that company's five-theater, three-city debut of Fox Searchlight's last big comedy, "Thank You For Smoking" during the March 18-20 weekend. Still in theatrical release, "Thank You For Smoking" so far has earned an extremely respectable $24.7 million.
Fox Searchlight had acquired Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' subversive "Little Miss Sunshine" for $10 million at this year's Sundance Film Festival, so the company obviously had faith in its commercial potential. It opened the film on a Wednesday (July 26) on 13 screens at seven theaters in New York and Los Angeles. It picked mostly major chains rather than art houses - Regal Union Square Stadium 14, AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 and AMC Empire 25 in Manhattan and ArcLight Hollywood, Pacific's The Grove Stadium 14, AMC Century City 15 and Laemmle's Monica Fourplex in L.A. Many of those theaters also had "Miami Vice" and "Pirates of the Caribbean."
"We were constrained on the number of seats we could sell, and we were turning them away at Saturday screenings," said Stephen Gilula, Fox Searchlight's chief operating officer. "We were only down 12% on Sunday."
He said anecdotal evidence indicates the film could be Fox Searchlight's biggest platform-released comedy to date - besides "Smoking," others include "Sideways," "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Garden State."
"It's a fantastic opening, but we still don't know how well it will do until we see how it plays regionally. I expect to have it on 600 screens by Aug. 18," Gilula said. This Friday it expands to about 60 theaters in ten more cities.
Focus took a different approach in opening Woody Allen's comedy "Scoop," which stars Scarlett Johansson and turns inside-out the premise of last year's "Match Point" for laughs rather than drama. It opened the movie extremely wide for an Allen film - 538 theaters. (DreamWorks had slowly developed "Match Point" from a slow, eight-theater release on the four-day New Year's weekend when it garnered a $66,179 average. Ultimately, it grossed a great $23 million.)
Yet that strategy, too, worked well. "Scoop" averaged $5,663 and finished ninth on iWBOT - excellent considering the wide release. The film also grossed $3 million, right on target with Focus' strategies, said Jack Foley, the company's distribution chief.
"'Match Point' was a big factor for us to exploit," Foley said. "It was a real commercial success and it gave Woody access to a lot of people he hadn't had before. And Scarlett was in that film. And another factor was the marketplace had little or no high-end product in it - this was fresh product for that sector."
Foley said he expects to hold the number of prints relatively steady. "We're not buying a gross at the cost of business," he said. "We're going to end up in the black on this film. We'd love to see this come in at $12 million. This is a good Woody Allen film and good Woody Allen films gross $10-$12 million," he said, noting that "Match Point" was special.
If Allen's movies once defined the hip, youthful "edge" of comedy - "Sleeper," "Annie Hall," "Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex" in the 1970s - the PG-13-rated "Scoop" now represents something more familiar. By contrast, the R-rated "Little Miss Sunshine" represents the new center - while life-affirming and sophisticated, it also uses obscenity and portrays an at-times uncomfortably dysfunctional family.
The new "edge," at least this week, is occupied by Todd Stephens' "Another Gay Movie," which did $19,368 at Manhattan's Quad Cinema and $13,950 at Laemmle's Sunset Five in West Hollywood, according to Nielsen EDI. An unrated satire of gay-movie conventions that is raunchy and proud of it, it finished second on the iWBOT with a $16,658 average.
Philadelphia-based TLA had targeted younger men and older teens for "Another Gay Movie" by posting the trailer on YouTube.com and promoting the film on gay-oriented blogs. To date, the trailer has been viewed over 120,000 times, according to Lewis Tice, TLA's national press liaison. "That's pretty amazing for something that's just a film trailer," he said.
"I don't think the gay community has had a comedy that's 100% gay and that makes fun of the coming-out stories that have been so utilized in queer cinema," he said. "There's also a huge curiosity factor to see how raunchy it is. And the film does go pretty far."
Tice said "Another Gay Movie" is influenced by "Scary Movie"'s shocking approach to humor, such as the infamous "glory hole" scene in which a victim is impaled by an erect penis.
This Friday, the film opens at San Francisco's Castro Theatre and expands in the L.A. market to Pasadena. On Aug. 11, it opens in Portland, Chicago, Denver, Atlanta, San Diego, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Palm Springs and Salt Lake City. "I'll be curious to see how Salt Lake City does," Tice said.
Palm Pictures occupied third and fourth place on the iWBOT with one new release - French writer/director Gela Babluani's arty thriller "13 (Tzameti)" - and one holdover, Paul Morrison's Jewish-themed "Wondrous Oblivion" about how cricket brings together German-Jewish and Jamaican families in a bigoted London neighborhood. In its second weekend at Washington, D.C.'s independent Avalon Theatre, it lost just 9% of its business and finished fourth on the iWBOT with a $10,740 gross.
"Opening weekends are huge, but as soon as you see the numbers you wonder whether it will hold and what the word-of-mouth will be," said Ed Arentz, national sales manager for Palm Pictures. "So the second weekend is very important. And now we're interested in other markets."
Still avoiding New York and Los Angeles, the film will expand into a second Washington theater on Aug. 11 and open in Boston - where it won an audience award at the Boston Jewish Film Festival - on Aug. 24.
In its third week of release, Koch Lorber pulled back Andre Techine's "Changing Times" (Les Temps Qui Changent) to three screens in New York and San Francisco from the previous weekend's four. (indieWIRE last week erroneously reported the number of locations as seven.) As a result, its per-screen average was a strong $8,504, although overall weekend gross dropped to $25,512 from $42,487. And audiences started to level off at midtown Manhattan's Paris Theatre - business declined 48% there to a still enviable $13,634 from $26,046. But the film still finished fifth on the iWBOT and moves into two screens in Los Angeles and one screen each in Long Island and Westchester on Friday.
Boosted by "Scoop's" $3 million revenue and "Sunshine's" $370,000 take, the 74 indie/specialty titles in the marketplace last weekend grossed $6.25 million at 2,238 theaters for a $2,793 per-location average. The previous weekend, 79 titles earned $3.95 million at 1,915 theaters for a $2,063 average.
[Steven Rosen is a Los Angeles-based film 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 submit information about your film to Rentrak, please email email@example.com