You go to the festivals, so you know what I'm talking about. You see movie after movie after movie, and you've got to hurry up and get out and get in the line for the next one. I sat down at Sundance and saw "Red Hook Summer," and I walked out and I had to stop. I had to go get a cup of coffee and sit in a coffee shop and think for an hour and a half. Because Spike is saying something, and it's something that I haven't heard from another filmmaker and I certainly haven't heard from someone with the volume on his voice that Spike has. He really is saying something with this movie. I'm thinking of all the ways that this message can get diluted or screwed up with the wrong marketing. I was sort of dumbfounded by it. I'm not saying it's a gut feeling, but when you walk out of a film and you feel like you've been punched in the stomach, you need to stop and think and say, "Is it something I can do something with? Is it something that we can help with?" We thought it was, obviously.
What is the message that he's trying to get across, as you see it?
Well, there's no way really to get that out unless you see the film, I hate to say it. It's not something you can condense into a sound bite. We have to do our best to interest audiences in it, and there are so many great angles. It's got a cast that includes first-timers, but it also has Clarke [Peters] from "The Wire," who gives a performance that in any justice-filled world would be Oscar-worthy. He’s got a tough role to play, and I think he nails it. It's Spike Lee taking audiences back to Brooklyn for a hot summer and showing them that things have changed but they haven't all changed for the better. It's multi-faceted, so I can't give you a sound bite. You've got to see the movie!
It's also got, as with other of Spike's films, a bit of a controversial aspect to it, which depending on your view might help sell it to audiences. Was there any discussion with Spike about making cuts or changes to the film before release?
By a matter of policy, we don't do that. The way I look at it is, if you are a traditional distributor and this is your business, or if you produce films then that's your business, but we look at a film as a complete entity. When we see the film, we’re like, "OK, this is the film." I often look at the films we have and say, "I wish it was five or ten minutes shorter here, I wish they had gone more into this…," but we just don't go down that road. What's that scene on "Veep" where she's saying, "If I were president…" and they're all like, "Don't go there." We don't go there. Now, Spike had some cuts of his own to make. We didn't weigh in on that. It's Spike's movie. You don't tell Spike Lee what to cut.
What are Spike’s expectations in terms of the release of the movie?
Oh, you know, world domination! You gotta ask Spike! We're going to ride it until the wheels fall off. We're booked in 35 cities and rising, and it's going to be a pretty wide release. And we’ll keep it going until the wheels fall off of it.
Are there any other details beyond that? Do you know how many theaters you're going to be in?
It releases August 10 in New York, and then we expand to six more markets on August 24, and then we expand to at least another 12 or 15 on the 31st. And then the film's going to play throughout September. We’re going to make sure everybody who wants to see the film has a chance to get it to them. We are planning on make the film available through Tugg for places that we're not playing a full week. We want to make sure that if Spike's got a fan pocket that's fifty miles from the nearest theater that's going to play it, those guys are going to get to see the film as well.
What about VOD access?
The film is going to be playing with Image Entertainment for home video and VOD. That's going to come at a traditional holdback, you'll have to check with them on the release date. It's going to be either late this winter or early 2013. It's not going to be a day-and-date release. This is going to be a you've-got-to-go-to-the-theater-and-take-the-ride-with-a-group-of-people kind of thing.
As far as box office gross, "Ip Man 2.” Great action movie that was 20 cities day-and-date, and the audience really responded to it, and that's gone on to crank. But for us, the one thing about Variance is that success can be measured in other ways besides box office. When you look at what we spend on some of the titles we release, "American: The Bill Hicks Story" is a great example — it grossed about $100,000 in theaters, which for a lot of films is not spectacular, but for the entirety of the release the budget was $22,000. And that when on to do $500,000-600,000 dollars on VOD, it was something insane. And then you look at a film like "Until the Light Takes Us," which is a great film that we managed to break out from black metal fans, do $130,000 in theaters off a less-than-$20,000 spend. Between us and the filmmakers, who are super dedicated, the film has gone on to have a very long life and we're still getting festival requests almost three years later.
That's the kind of thing we do. It's very important to me. We're not the typical — there are parallels to what we do in the old-school service deals, but that's really not how we roll. We don't set a maximum number of markets for the films we release. We act as if we are your distribution partner theatrically until the wheels fall off of the film, and probably after that. Which is why we’re so picky about what we work on, because this is not a four-month relationship, this is often a two- or three-year thing that we do. "Amigo" is still in theaters right now.
Let's see, it just played last weekend somewhere up in Vermont. I don't remember the town. (laughs) We've played over 85 runs with that film over the last 11 months, and it's going to keep going.
Do you have a release plan for "3, 2, 1... Frankie Go Boom" yet?
Absolutely. That is going to come pre-theatrical VOD through our friends at Gravitas, who we are partnering up on the film with. So on September 10 that goes on VOD. And then on October 12 the film is going to go ten cities theatrical day-and-date, and then we're going to keep it going until the wheels fall off. We're going to do some fun stuff with Tugg on that one as well, and we're just going to make sure that, while the film is available on VOD, because I am a theatrical guy we took on the film because I believe that people are going to want to get together and watch it late-night, sneak a bottle of gin into the theater with you, or vodka or — whatever, I drink gin like a fuckin' 70-year-old. You know, have a good time! The movie theater is my church, and we will continue to provide worship material for anyone who wants to join.