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NYTimes: Opening Big in Austin

NYTimes: Opening Big in Austin

Okay, even if this article had nothing to do with my hometown or a film by friends of mine, I would still consider this a relevant and interesting feature by The New York Times. Sony Pictures Classics has decided to release the Duplass Brothers’ festival hit Baghead in Austin first and then roll it out nationwide. Strategies like this are nothing new, as the article makes a point of noting, but it is extremely rare when coming from such an established distributor as SPC. Also, it makes an interesting case for the viability of bypassing the conventional theatrical patterns (hint hint, nudge nudge). From Michael Cieply’s feature:

Whether the reverse rollout of “Baghead” is an aberration or the tip of a trend remains to be seen. But that it is happening at all signals a change in the way independent film executives view the delicate business of shaping tastes.

Professional reviews and expensive advertising in the national media centers matter less. Internet buzz and the folkways of a flourishing festival culture now count for more.

“It’s a cumulative effect,” Mr. Bernard said. Critics in the big media centers, he argued, have generally gotten into the habit of writing for one another more than for movie viewers. Meanwhile, audiences in regional centers like the Texas cities he has in mind for “Baghead” have become well informed about films thanks to the widespread availability of information on the Web. And the studio can generate excitement, for instance with an open-air premiere planned for “Baghead” in Austin, word of which will presumably spread to Dallas and Houston.

Sony, he said, would consider alternative releasing strategies for any film that showed promise of sparking interest outside the traditional starting points in New York and Los Angeles.

Of course this is only a half-story for the moment. Everyone will be watching closely to see how this release strategy works. Perhaps not surprisingly, I hope it works very well.

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