Archive for January 2012
Distributing revivals of classic films is an art in and of itself; an art in which we excelled.
Periodically studios would take back a classic or specialty film from us so they could do their own reissue. Their plan was to generate publicity to launch a home video release, with the hope of also making money at the box-office.
Sometimes they got the publicity they wanted, but the small fortune they spent on marketing doomed any possibility of making money selling tickets.
CBS is not a company associated with feature films, but they had a motion picture division in the 1970s, Cinema Center Films, that released 30 feature films including “A Man Called Horse,” was by far the most well known. In the late 1980s we obtained both theatrical and non-theatrical rights to all 30, and theatrical rights to their crown jewel, “My Fair Lady.”
CBS funded the original Broadway show and licensed motion picture rights to Warner Bros. for $5 million enabling them to produce and release a film, with all rights to be transferred to CBS 7 years after its theatrical release. (An incredible deal for CBS)
In 1993 we were working on reissuing MFL with new prints in a roll-out commencing at our best premiere venue, Film Forum, in New York City. However, unbeknownst to us, CBS was restoring the movie and had a deal to release it theatrically by 20th Century-Fox in both 35mm and 70mm. Naturally this caused friction because we had been assigned the theatrical rights and were working on our own release. However, we worked out a fair deal and Fox was allowed to release it, with rights reverting to us after 60 days.
Fox was a master of distributing and marketing first run movies and, as with all the major studios, had no idea how to reissue classics. Consequently MFL played at inappropriate theatres for that type of picture. Box-office was, at best lackluster despite very hefty marketing expenses. One exception was at New York City’s mighty Ziegfeld Theatre were it did very good business ($75,000 for the first weekend as I recall) which may sound like a lot of money, but after extremely high marketing costs, and theatre, expenses were deducted, the engagement became awash in a sea of red.
When we got the picture back it had already played in major cities for weeks, but we went right back and placed the show in those same cities at what we knew from experience to be the right venues in the right part of town. In virtually every case we out-grossed the theatres where it previously played first-run with Fox.
The best example is in San Francisco where Fox opened MFL at a good first-run upscale house and supported it with another big ad campaign. I believe their gross was under $10,000 for the first week and, of course, declined the subsequent 2 weeks. Two months later we opened it at the ideal venue for that type of picture, The Castro, and grossed $50,000+ in one week, with virtually no advertising costs and, again, after the movie had played for weeks at the other theatre.
I’m not casting dispersions on Fox or CBS, as they may well have been thrilled with the publicity, and be damned with associated costs (called a “bought gross” in motion picture distribution parlay), but rather to point out that no matter how much money is thrown into marketing a revival, selling tickets is predicated upon placing the show at the right venue which we were masters at.
Most of the theatres we played didn’t pay for advertising, but put the word out using their in-house efforts such as printed calendars and close relationships with the press. The maestro of marketing is Bruce Goldstein of NYC’s Film Forum. He could (and can) be depended upon to garner more exposure in the media than any deep pocketed studio could ever hope to with their older films.
I’m proud of my past record/history in exposing classic films to movie lovers in the way they were meant to be shown…in 35mm.