Monday, December 27, 2010

This Week In Tickets: 20 December 2010 to 26 December 2010

It's a sparse week, but Christmas shopping and Christmas visiting are priorities. Besides, it creates a nifty sort of theme week - all foreign films, but making their way to the United States in necessarily different ways:

This Week In Tickets!

I probably think about distribution and exhibition entirely too much for someone who, all running jokes about finding an eccentric millionaire to finance me opening a Keystone/Alamo-type theater aside, is not going to gain much by thinking about it. It's not wasted mental effort, especially if you love international cinema - the decision whether to buy import Blu-rays of 20th Century Boys versus the Viz Pictures DVDs versus waiting for something better is much easier if you know the lay of the land a little.

(It's almost like comics, in some ways, in that it takes a lot more effort to be much more than a casual fan. Where comics basically requires you to browse the retailer's catalog two months in advance if you want cool independent books, film fandom means knowing your local boutique theaters and what the changing release patterns are in order to catch movies without a major-studio-sized advertising budget.)

Applause is a boutique film1. It's not light entertainment; it doesn't feature names that the average audience member will look at and say "I know who ___ is, and even if I don't enjoy this movie, being able to discuss it will make me look good". (Sorry, Paprika Steen fans!) It didn't get buzz at festivals. So, it fell past the notice of the bigger distributors of boutique films - Magnolia, IFC, the studio imprints - and then past the second tier - Oscilloscope, First Run, Music Box, Roadside Attractions2 - and winds up with World Wide Motion Pictures Corporation, a tiny label that in the past seems to have mainly picked up pictures that went unsold for years and appears to create a very small number of prints.

It's a very targeted release right now - very select markets with the hope of either a Best Actress nomination for star Paprika Steen - in which case, new prints and an expansion becomes practical - or enough discussion to get small bookings, like a few shows at museums or film societies. A lot of films like Applause probably don't even get this big a push, but Steen's performance is worth pushing and there's a time limit on how long a foreign film can sit on a shelf and still be eligible for the Oscars.

Rare Exports, on the other hand, while arguably still a boutique film, is one that has a strong hook for a broader audience ("demon Santa"); got good buzz at festivals, especially genre festivals like Fantastic Fest and Sitges; and by its nature has a short shelf-life. Any studio that picked it up was looking at either getting it in theaters within three months, or hanging on to it until next December, when the buzz might have been exhausted. Oscilloscope appeared willing to do that; with a small slate, they've got a little more flexibility than some of the larger distributors, and they were willing to commit to this movie without seeing how it did in its home market, as it got the sort of simultaneous international release usually only associated with American blockbusters.

Then there's If You Are the One 2 which, as mentioned last night, is getting near-simultaneous releases in China, America, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It's not quite following the Bollywood model where foreign cinemas are simply treated like other screens in the domestic market; distribution rights are sold to a middleman who negotiates with theater chains. Also, unlike Applause and Rare Exports, things like If You Are the One 2 and the vast majority of Indian films are not being marketed toward a broad audience; they're being marketed toward ethnic communities, to the point where tickets often have the untranslated name on them, as does the signage above the theater door, where "Fei Cheng Wu Rao" really stands out amid a bunch of "True Grit" and "Little Fockers".

There's no one best way to go about this. As much as I like the really fast turnaround of the latter two movies, there aren't enough screens in New York, let alone Boston, to handle day-and-date releases of everything that plays theatrically in its home country. I do think, though, that we will see fewer and fewer situations like that of Applause as time goes on - the Academy will eventually emend the qualification rules so that films which are not released theatrically are eligible, digital infrastructure will make it possible (and even necessary) for even smaller producers to market globally.

1 I'm not really a fan of the term art-house; it sounds snooty, with the implication that calling these films art means that those film's aren't. (Back)

2 No disrespect to those distributors meant; they just don't have the resources and multi-platform reach that the others do. (Back)

ApplauseRare ExportsIf You Are The One 2


taiko said...

Wow. you are movie lover.

M., Fox Searchlight said...

Personally and professionally, I know what you mean about indie or foreign films like this getting proper distribution, but I'm glad that APPLAUSE "wound up" with World Wide Motion Pictures because her performance is so amazing. I think the film could have ended up with any one of the studios like the one I work for because it's such a quality film.

Jason said...

Oh, I'm certainly glad somebody picked it up, although I'm skeptical how much this label can really do. The impression I get looking at the movie, WWMP's website, and the general landscape, is that Applause isn't commercially viable for most larger indie distributors, so this one's got a very specific mission: Get it playing in NY/LA for award voters and critics. After that, it goes into the same vault as WWMP's public domain prints, maybe gets licensed to Image (or, if it gets an unusual amount of interest, Fox or Sony) for a DVD release, but never gets any real push behind it.

Which, to be fair, is probably a lot better than many movies get. Still, compared to what is going on with the other two movies I saw last week, and the way people actually see movies now, I wonder if this gambling on end-of-year critical and award attention isn't a bit of an antiquated system.