Indie Insights: Pre-Sundance Sales Jitters, 'Iron Lady' Still Popular, Classy Stripper Doc Opens

Indie Insights: Pre-Sundance Sales Jitters, 'Iron Lady' Still Popular, Classy Stripper Doc Opens

Jan 18, 2012

Welcome to this week’s edition of Indie Insights, a column in which we take a wide-angled view of what’s happening in the independent film community.

Issue #1: Pre-Sundance Sales Jitters

Sundance Film Festival

Film distributors are gamblers, at heart. The successful ones, especially those at the smaller, “boutique” companies, are obviously skilled at what they do, balancing their love of challenging artistic fare against the cold, harsh realities of an unforgiving theatrical marketplace.

With the Sundance Film Festival kicking off tomorrow, it’s understandable that specialty distributors have pre-fest jitters, especially when the recent past is considered. “Last year's edition seemed to produce fewer than usual films reaching even a modest theatrical audience,” reports Thompson on Hollywood. Only five acquisitions grossed more than $5 million in theatrical revenue.

That doesn’t mean all the other acquisitions were financial failures; much depends on production and acquisition costs. And theatrical profits only begin to tell the story nowadays, especially as more distributors make use of Video On Demand (VOD) platforms. Margin Call, for example, was released simultaneously on VOD and in theaters, and its total gross should be quite a bit more than the $5.3 million earned theatrically.

Still, this is the first time that all the films in Sundance’s Premieres section will screen without confirmed distribution in place, Deadline reports. “A number of these films came from producers and not distributors,” says Trevor Groth, head of programming. “Maybe it’s a one-off year, but we’ll see.”

Recently Opened

The Iron Lady

What's been happening at the indie box office?

It’s only fair to mention the unexpected success of The Devil Inside, an indie that got picked up by Paramount’s Insurge label and benefited from a well-funded marketing campaign (and a lack of competing new releases) to gross more than $47 million to date, against a reported production cost of $800,000.

Leaving that horror story aside, audiences continue to respond to The Iron Lady (pictured above) as it opens wider. Meryl Streep, who stars as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, won a Golden Globe on Sunday, but even before that happened, the film had grossed an estimated $6.6 million, translating into a healthy per-screen average of $8,265 at 802 locations, according to Box Office Mojo.

The films that won Golden Globes for Best Picture in their respective categories, The Descendants and The Artist, are still doing well at the box office. After two months in release, The Descendants has earned $47.9 million, while The Artist has grossed $9.2 million.

Nominations for the 2012 Academy Awards will be announced next Tuesday, January 24, and that should drive the indie box office through the end of February.

Coming Soon

Crazy Horse

The final two weekends of January start to get interesting.

Crazy Horse. (Opens today in New York before rolling out slowly in selected cities nationwide.)
Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman turns his camera on the Crazy Horse cabaret in Paris. Wiseman’s career stretches back to the late 60s, and he’s covered an incredible array of subjects in cinema verite style, everything from a department store in Dallas to 2010’s Boxing Gym. As our own Christopher Campbell expressed in a review for another outlet, Wiseman’s films “look like objective works but they are extremely subjective, and it really doesn’t matter if I’m disappointed with Crazy Horse. Like other Wiseman docs it is exquisitely crafted.”

Coriolanus. (Opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles before rolling out nationwide in February.)
Ralph Fiennes directs a less familiar, war-themed tragedy by Shakespeare, adapted for the big screen for the first time by the very busy Hollywood scribe John Logan (Hugo, Rango), featuring a cast led by Fiennes himself in the title role, with Gerard Butler, Jessica Chastain, Vanessa Redgrave, and Brian Cox providing support. In her review from the Toronto film festival last fall, Monika Bartyzel wrote that Fiennes takes “a truly epic and masculine story” and makes it work “on a level it never has before.”

Albert Nobbs. (Opens wide on Jan. 27.)
We Need to Talk About Kevin. (Opens Friday in Los Angeles; expands nationwide on Jan. 27)
Both films received limited releases at the end of last year, timed to qualify for “best of” lists and award consideration. Lead actresses Glenn Close and Tilda Swinton have justifiably received critical praise; as for the films themselves, Albert Nobbs has received somewhat mixed notices, while We Need to Talk About Kevin has mostly garnered positive reviews.

As noted above, the Academy Award nominations will be announced next Tuesday, and Close and Swinton remain among the leading candidates for Best Actress. Both received Golden Globe nominations, and though neither won, they both looked beautiful and glamorous on the nationally-broadcast show, in contrast to how they appear in their respective films. If, as expected, they receive Oscar nominations, that will draw further attention from audiences deciding what to watch at the end of the month.

Indie Insights will return on Wednesday, February 1.

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