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Box Office 2.0: Two Notable DIY Releases That Opened In “Precious”‘s Shadow

Box Office 2.0: Two Notable DIY Releases That Opened In "Precious"'s Shadow

While obviously the indie box office story of this past weekend was Lee Daniels’ “Precious: Based on the novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire.” With final numbers now in, its record breaking per-theater average can officially be confirmed. In fact, the film managed to gross $72,458 more than estimated – putting its average at an astounding $104,025. However, since this weekend’s estimates column – and many more columns to come – are sure to continually elaborate on “Precious”‘s massive success, I figured this second edition of “Box Office 2.0” should take a look at two other films that opened this weekend: Fredrick Wiseman’s “La Danse,” and Brant Sersen’s “Splinterheads.” Both opened on a lone NYC screen and managed the second and third best per-theater averages behind “Precious.” And while performing well on a sole screen during opening weekend does not yet a hit make, both films did so with very DIY distribution efforts that warrant some discussion.

After being met with capacity and near capacity crowds on Wednesday and Thursday of last week (its first two nights), Frederick Wiseman’s ballet doc “La Danse” sold out every single of its shows at New York City’s Film Forum over the weekend, managing a three day gross of $14,000 and a 5-day opening of $21,220. That’s one of the ten best per-theater-averages for a debuting doc this year.

Friday night shows were sold out hours in advance, while Saturday’s first two shows were both sold out before the first show even began. By 3:30pm on Saturday, tickets for the entire day were gone. This is all the more impressive considering the film’s near three-hour running time and that the theater it was playing in held only 150 people. As a result, the film has managed to score a second screen this upcoming friday, which is a rare feat for the Film Forum, a cinema which limited flexibility due to its calendar programming.

The film – which follows the production of seven ballets by the Paris Opera Ballet – was released by Zipporah Films, Wiseman’s distribution company. “La Danse” is actually the first dedicated theatrical release Wiseman has given one of his own films. Michael Tuckman of mTuckman media was hired to handle the theatrical release, and told indieWIRE how impressed he was with Film Forum’s manner in exhibiting the film.

A scene from Frederick Wiseman’s “La Danse.”

“The team at Film Forum did an impeccable job as always in publicizing the film,” Tuckman said. “From the get go, they scheduled long lead screenings for key press, putting Frederick Wiseman and his unmatched resume of work front and center, working tirelessly to ensure it the best possible coverage and specifically seeking dance critics to supplement the traditional film media. We added to this effort by aggressively getting the word out to dance companies of all scopes and sizes – from major city institutions to neighborhood studios – all of whom were incredibly supportive and to whom we are very thankful for their outreach. This two-tiered approach of promoting the film as both an extraordinary film from one of the world’s leading documentary filmmakers and as a feast for all lovers of dance ran consistent with what AO Scott wrote of the film in calling in ‘one of the finest dance films ever made, but there’s more to it than that,’ and I think that is what resonated with audiences in leading the shows to be sold out all weekend.”

Tuckman said that the film’s audience was “extremely diverse,” running from age 18 to 80 and including both target groups like ballet lovers and Wiseman enthusiasts, and those who are neither. “La Danse” next expands to Los Angeles and Chicago on November 20 before rolling out to top markets in late November and early December and to markets across the country in the weeks to follow. It will be an interesting film to keep track of.

A very, very different film, Brant Sersen’s “Splinterheads,” found a similar number – $10,515 – from its New York debut at Regal Union Square. The film follows a slacker whose life is turned upside down when a traveling carnival rolls in to town for the summer, bringing with it a crew of carnival workers, who call themselves “splinterheads” and earn a living by hustling an endless stream of townies out of their hard-earned cash. The slacker ends up falling in love with one of them.

The film took action with some truly unique marketing tactics to bring in audiences. They set up a dunk tank (similar to one that is in the movie), handed out 3,000 red clown noses, and set up a flash-mob event in Union Square over the weekend.

“We opened the film alongside ‘Precious’ and we could tell from Friday mornings’ first sold out screening that they were going to have a huge, huge weekend,” Atlantic Pictures’ Darren Goldberg told indieWIRE yesterday. “It’s great to see anyone’s film finding that kind of success in the current climate, but we knew we were going to have to work that much harder to find our audience this weekend.”

Atlantic is releasing the film in partnership with Mark Urman’s Paladin, and providing the prints and advertising financing.

“We don’t have the budget to compete with the ad spend of major studio comedies,” Goldberg said, “so our campaign revolves around event-based marketing and guerilla marketing tactics.”

Two folks get in on the fun at the festivities for “Splinterheads” in Union Square this weekend. Photo courtesy of Atlantic Pictures.

On the event side of things, they have been promoting the film’s ties to the Upright Citizen’s Brigade and New York City’s improv scene by doing special screenings and comedy shows in support of the film to those audiences. Additionally, they have been promoting the film online in what one can assume is a film promotion first: on “geocaching” websites.

“Geocaching is a popular GPS-based hiking and treasure hunting activity is featured prominently in ‘Splinterheads’ so we’ve also been running promotions for geocachers to provide incentive to see our film,” Goldberg explained. “We provided a geocaching teaser to geocaching.com which has received over 240K views. That is an audience we look forward to promoting to when the film is available nationally on DVD and VOD.”

Goldberg said their biggest goal with “Splinterheads”‘s release weekend was to “turn the film in to a special event for everyone who joined us for a screening.”

“[We wanted] to play on the carnival setting of the film and bring that vibe to Union Square,” he said. “Saturday, we hired a local carnival performer to set up a ‘Drown the Clown’ attraction in front of the theater on Saturday which attracted a ton of attention.. We also created a life sized poster with cutouts where the actors heads would go, set it up in the middle of Union Square and encouraged people to have their picture taken. We’re very happy with the results so far and hope that the film continues to find it’s audience as we expand to Portland, OR and Austin, TX this week.”

“Box Office 2.0” is a new weekly column by indieWIRE Associate Editor Peter Knegt. Check out his previous editions:

Box Office 2.0: Snap Judgements & Great Expectations

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