Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cameron's Christian Movie = $33M;
Black Lesbian 'Pariah' = $770K

That creepy Christian bigot and actor Kirk Cameron had a film in the theaters back in 2008, which was news to me when I read a reference about the flick at Nikki Finke's Deadline site. In a Friday post about the preliminary opening day box office numbers for the anti-abortion movie "October Baby", Deadline said:

It is that dedicated, laser-targeted audience that helped make fellow faith-based fare Fireproof, starring Kirk Cameron, one of the most successful independent films of 2008, grossing $33.5 million.

The audience referred to is comprised of moviegoers whose tickets are purchased by conservative churches and religious schools in large blocks, then given to parishioners and students go catch the movie for free. Distributor Samuel Goldwyn Films works closely with the institutions to make all this happen. Deadline also reports:

It’s an extension of a strategy that began last fall when October Baby was released for three weeks in 13 theaters in Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi, timed to to an ultimately unsuccessful Mississippi “personhood” ballot initiative and backed with funding from the American Family Association.

So, not only does the distributor find a very willing, and paying, audience to get butts into seats and profits in the bank, it also collaborates tangentially in the political arena with the churches and colleges. Pretty creative way of making money on a movie and reaffirming a core message to the target audience.

Nothing wrong with that, and it's a strategy that other distributors and filmmakers ought to consider and copy for their own needs.

In the instance of the excellent independent "Pariah" about a teenage black lesbian coming out and to grips with her sexual orientation, which I saw and recommended, distributor Focus Features might have brought in more coin using the conservative Christian model. "Pariah" was the first feature written and directed by the keen-eyed and talented Dee Rees.

How much did I enjoy the film? So much that I tolerated the shortish times when Rees uses a jerky, hand-held camera and too-fast (for my eyes) editing. Let's not overlook the captivating performance by Adepero Oduye in the title role. Did you know that acting goddess Meryl Streep gave a shout-out to Oduye during awards season?

"Pariah" couldn't crack the $1 million mark in theatrical release profits, according to the authoritative Box Office Mojo site which reports that it took in all of $770,000 during its run.

What if Focus Features coordinated ticket-purchasing in bulk with LGBT youth groups, the Gay-Straight Alliances, gay and allied religious groups and black LGBT advocacy organizations, then gave away thousands of tickets? Would the box office returns for "Pariah" have been in the millions instead of the high six-figures?

It wouldn't have hurt the distributor's bottom line, while the audience receiving the free tickets and catching the movie would have seen part of their lives up on the silver screen, told honestly and with grit that gets the heroine to a happy ending.

I'm just saying if Cameron and his religious and entertainment backers can produce a movie with limited reach that still rakes in millions of bucks, the likes of Dees and everyone involved with "Pariah" should be able to do better at the box office with proven effective strategies used by the conservatives, but adopted for our special LGBT communities.

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