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Adventures in Self-Releasing: Indiewood By the Numbers

Adventures in Self-Releasing: Indiewood By the Numbers

Blog - Adventures in Self-Releasing

I’ve been obsessed with the Box Office Chart that appears on indieWIRE every Tuesday for a while now. So I thought I’d go through the top 15 American narrative movies on this week’s list and see what we can learn from the numbers. Something can be learned from every single movie on the list, but since The Last Lullaby is an American narrative, I thought I would make that my focus:

1. 500 Days of Summer
Distributor: Fox Searchlight; reported budget: n/a (my guess $5 million minimum production budget, $5 million minimum marketing budget, since they are buying TV advertisements); opened on 27 screens on July 17, 2009; box office gross: $4,070,615 as of July 31, 2009.

Backstory: Premiered at this year’s Sundance (acquired by Fox Searchlight prior to the festival for an undisclosed amount); music video director Marc Webb’s first feature; produced by Mark Waters, director of box office hits Mean Girls and Freaky Friday.

Verdict: So far on track to become one of the top-grossing independent movies of the year. But also seems like the type of project, like Juno, packaged in Hollywood to look like Indiewood. Not sure unknown moviemakers can aspire to a first project like this.

2. Shrink
Distributor: Roadside Attractions; reported budget: n/a; opened on two screens on July 24, 2009; box office gross: $16,443 as of July 28, 2009.

Backstory: Premiered at this year’s Sundance; directed by Jonas Pate, who directed the 1997 acclaimed Deceiver with his brother; stars Kevin Spacey.

Verdict: Too early to tell, but numbers aren’t looking terribly promising.

3. The Hurt Locker
Distributor: Summit Entertainment; reported budget: $11 million production budget; opened on four screens on July 3, 2009; box office gross: $4,015,070 as of July 28, 2009.

Backstory: Premiered at last year’s Venice Film Festival; directed by Kathryn Bigelow, formerly married to James Cameron and director of acclaimed films Near Dark, Point Break and Strange Days.

Verdict: Probably the strongest reviewed American narrative of the year so far. Using its strong critical support and a slow rollout, looks like it’s on its way to some admirable numbers.

4. War Eagle, Arkansas
Distributor: Empire Film Group; reported budget: $1.1 million production budget; opened on seven screens on June 26, 2009; box office gross: $74,281 as of July 28, 2009.

Backstory: Stars Brian Dennehy and Mare Winningham.

Verdict: Don’t know much at all about the Empire Film Group, but seem to be doing an OK job getting the movie out there.

5. Shadowland
Distributor: Self-distributed; reported budget: n/a; opened on one screen on July 24, 2009; box office gross: $5,420 as of July 28, 2009.

Backstory: Missouri-produced movie that made its theatrical premiere in St. Louis.

Verdict: Will be interesting to see how the movie does if it goes outside of Missouri.

6. Humpday
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures; reported budget: n/a; opened on two screens on July 10, 2009; box office gross: $200,822 as of July 30, 2009.

Backstory: Premiered at this year’s Sundance and sold for a reported mid-six figures; directed by Lynn Shelton, director of last year’s My Effortless Brilliance, winner of the 2008 Independent Spirit Someone to Watch Award.

Verdict: Despite strong critical buzz and tremendous support from the indie world, still doesn’t seem to have a great foothold in the marketplace.

7. The Answer Man
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures; reported budget: n/a; opened on six screens on July 24, 2009; box office gross: $12,998 as of July 28, 2009.

Backstory: Premiered at this year’s Sundance; stars Jeff Daniels.

Verdict: Its first week totals are looking pretty grim.

8. Loren Cass
Distributor: Kino International; reported Budget: n/a; opened on one screen on July 24, 2009; box office gross: $2,135 as of July 28, 2009.

Backstory: Apparently a difficult movie that has received some stellar reviews; played at Locarno Film Festival and CineVegas.

Verdict: Probably a movie that can do a little box office in select cities as long as it’s in the right theater and able to find its way in front of the local critic.

9. Whatever Works
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics; reported budget: $15 million production budget; opened on nine screens on June 19, 2009; box office gross: $4,440,243 as of July 28, 2009.

Backstory: Woody Allen’s latest movie; stars Larry David.

Verdict: Pretty disappointing numbers for Woody. Better than Cassandra’s Dream, but way off from his last effort, Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

10. Surveillance
Distributor: Magnet Releasing; reported budget: $3.5 million production budget; opened on two screens on June 26, 2009; box office gross $25,352 as of July 28, 2009.

Backstory: Directed by Jennifer Chambers Lynch, director of Boxing Helena and David Lynch’s daughter; stars Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond.

Verdict: Prospects looking pretty grim.

11. The Stoning of Soraya M.
Distributor: Roadside Attractions; reported budget: n/a; opened on 25 screens on July 3, 2009; box office gross: $519,727 as of July 28, 2009.

Backstory: Won Audience Award for Best Feature at the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival and runner-up at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival.

Verdict: Someone is spending a good deal of money on P&A.

12. Treeless Mountain
Distributor: Oscilloscope Pictures; reported budget: n/a; opened on one screen on April 24, 2009; box office gross: $56,602 as of July 28, 2009.

Backstory: Premiered at last year’s Toronto Film Festival; second feature from So Yong Kim, director of the acclaimed In Between Days.

Verdict: The movie has been out there for three months. Doesn’t look like it will even break $100,000, but impressive that Oscilloscope has allowed it to stay in theaters for so long.

13. Away We Go
Distributor: Focus Features; reported budget: $17 million production budget; opened on four screens on June 5, 2009; box office gross: $8,865,132 as of July 28, 2009.

Backstory: Directed by Sam Mendes, previous winner of the Oscar for American Beauty.

Verdict: Doesn’t really seem like a success story for Focus.

14. Tetro
Distributor: American Zoetrope; reported budget: $15 million production budget; opened on two screens on June 12, 2009; box office gross: $346,359 as of July 28, 2009.

Backstory: Directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

Verdict: Can’t be numbers that make Coppola very happy.

15. Management
Distributor: The Samuel Goldwyn Company; reported budget: n/a; opened on 212 screens on May 15, 2009; box office gross: $928,685 as of July 28, 2009.

Backstory: Premiered at last year’s Toronto Film Festival; stars Jennifer Aniston.

Verdict: Someone is spending a good deal of money on P&A.

Just a few final thoughts:

a. I think this list shows how rare it is for a first-time director to make a movie that does real, break-out numbers.

b. It also shows that even movies those movies that star Kevin Spacey or Jennifer Aniston—or are directed by the likes of Woody Allen, Sam Mendes and Francis Ford Coppola—are struggling in the current landscape.

c. Lastly, I think these numbers demonstrate how few indie success stories there are. And, in many ways, that has probably always been the case. Although I’m purely guessing, because I don’t have access to many of these movies’ budgets, I would say that the only movies on this list that will end up “in the black” financially for the investors are The Hurt Locker, maybe (500) Days of Summer and, depending on the size of the advance they actually received, Humpday.

After living in Los Angeles for seven years, Jeffrey Goodman returned to his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana to direct The Last Lullaby. Co-written by the creator of Road to Perdition, and starring Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander, The Last Lullaby was filmed entirely in and around Shreveport and financed by 48 local investors.

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