This week's column considers a lesson for independent filmmakers, wrestling with spirituality, and forbidden love.
Indie Box Office: Learning From Kevin Smith
In last week's column, I mistakenly reported that Kevin Smith's Red State had already begun its one-week qualifying run in Los Angeles for Academy Award consideration and that it grossed $21,610 over the weekend. The dollar figure was exactly as reported by Box Office Mojo, but it was, in reality, income generated from the film's "Provinces Tour" across Canada.
Red State actually began its Los Angeles run last Friday, August 19, and the gross receipts over the weekend were even higher: $25,800. The total was goosed by the higher than usual ticket price ($20), which includes a post-screening Q&A by the filmmaker, but Smith's fans were not deterred. Of interest, Smith will not be appearing at any of the shows tomorrow, August 26, and thus the cost drops back down to the usual $7 price charged by the New Beverly Cinema.
The success of Red State is certainly good news for all fledgling independent filmmakers, in that it shows one path that can be taken to success in the current, fractured distribution environment. Theoretically, other established filmmakers could do the same thing as Smith, but who else has Smith's stage presence -- a combination of stand-up comedian and narrative storyteller -- as well as his willingness to promote his work tirelessly in a variety of media?
Most directors whose careers are underway have grown up with the traditional distribution model in mind for their work, which means that they can put all their creative passion, time, and energy into the movie itself. Many resist, or even resent, the prospect of magically transforming into sales people in order to get their movie seen by as many people as possible. And that's completely understandable: there's a minimal overlap in the skill sets for creative work and sales.
But the same could be said about writing and directing movies; some people can do both, while many more need to stick to one or the other. (That's one of the common complaints about Smith, that he's strong as a writer but weak as a director.) The same can also be said about directors who produce their own movies: different skill sets, minimal overlap. That's why we often hear about directors who team up with the same producers time and time again. (Again, notice that Smith has stuck with producer Scott Mosier since Clerks.)
If building a fan community like Smith's sounds like a daunting task for an unknown, consider the Kickstarter success stories profiled by Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE. The top seven all received pledges totaling more than $100,000; clearly, everyone who contributed wants to see the movie they're helping to fund, and they'll tell their friends about it. You don't need a six-figure budget, either; in a column at Filmmaker Magazine, Mark Stolaroff talks about his "no-budget philosophy."
Social media is important, but "you can tell when someone sits down once a day and just blasts a bunch of stuff, having little relevance," says Viki Psiholyos, developer of the social media campaign for The Cove, a documentary about the secretive killing of dolphins in Japan. "I like to grow and feed a community." Alexander Hotz' article at Mashable contains other ideas for documentary filmmakers.
The lesson for prospective filmmakers is that they need to team up with a wider variety of complementary talents. Maybe you are the extremely rare, gifted individual can write, direct, produce, photograph, edit, market and distribute your own film, all while building and then maintaining your own fan community that will support you through thick and thin. Or, more likely, you're not, in which case you need to seek out individuals whose strengths will complement yours.
Red State will be available via Video On Demand (VOD) systems for two weeks, beginning on September 1.
My pick of the week is Vera Farmiga's Higher Ground, the tale of a woman's search for spirituality. You could call it "The Rise and Fall of a Spiritual Woman," in that Corinne, played by Farmiga's sister Taissa Farmiga in her younger years and by Farmiga as an adult, spends the entirety of the running time wrestling with her faith in one way or another. Yet the film, adapted from a memoir by Carolyn Briggs, avoids the trap of portraying religious characters in a stereotypical manner; it questions and explores, rather than scorning or idealizing, and displays a disarming sense of humor.
Both Farmiga sisters are exquisitely good, and they're supported by a fine cast that includes Joshua Leonard, John Hawkes, Donna Murphy, and Dagmara Dominczyk. Higher Ground opens this weekend in New York and Los Angeles before expanding across the country in the coming weeks. The official site has more information.
Brighton Rock is based on the same 1938 Graham Greene novel that was adapted into a very fine 1947 film, starring Richard Attenborough and directed by John Boulting. The new version, written for the screen and directed by Rowan Joffe, making his feature debut, is set in 1964 and stars Sam Riley as Pinkie Brown, supported by Andrea Riseborough, Andy Serkis, Helen Mirren, and John Hurt. Brighton Rock opens in limited release this weekend; it will be available on VOD platforms on August 31.
Chasing Madoff documents the 10-year investigation by Harry Markopolos and his team as they endeavored "to expose the harrowing truth behind the infamous [Bernie] Madoff scandal." We debuted the poster back in June, and now you can see the film for yourself. If you live in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington DC, Miami, or Palm Beach, Florida, you can see it this weekend; it will be opening in other cities in the next few weeks.
Redemption Road, directed by Mario Van Peebles, stars Michael Clarke Duncan and Morgan Simpson, with Kiele Sanchez, Tom Skerritt, Taryn Manning, Luke Perry, and Melvin Van Peebles. After Simpson's grandfather dies, he must travel with Duncan on a music-infused trip from Austin, Texas, to Huntsville, Alabama to settle the estate. The film opens on Friday in Atlanta, Austin, Birmingham, Little Rock, Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans, and Tampa. The official site has more information.
Swinging With the Finkels is a romantic comedy featuring Martin Freeman and Mandy Moore "as a bored suburban couple that decide to spice up their sex life by swinging." Well, you can't get more straightforward than that description! Melissa George, Jonathan Silverman, and Jerry Stiller co-star. It opens in Miami, Florida, and Palm Springs, California on Friday.
Trailer of the Week
Winner of the Audience Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Circumstance is set in the modern-day youth culture of Tehran, Iran, where two teenage girls fall in love, a relationship that is fraught with danger. Maryam Keshavarz wrote and directed. Circumstance opens in New York and Los Angeles this weekend; check the official site for future playdates.
Check out the trailer below, which teases the story and the atmosphere without, hopefully, giving too much away.