The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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How three Oscar winners = one straight-to-video movie

Heist2

I'd been wondering for a while whatever happened to "The Maiden Heist," an offbeat comedy about a trio of museum guards who steal a batch of their favorite art. Financed by Bob Yari, the maverick producer who won an Oscar for "Crash," the film stars Morgan Freeman, Christopher Walken, William H. Macy and Marcia Gay Harden, who have a raft of Oscar wins and nominations among them. 

The film is finally coming out Oct. 27 -- but only at your local video store, not at your local multiplex. NPR's Cory Turner recently did a nice in-depth piece about how the movie crashed and burned even before it made it to market. The story is well worth a read, since it offers a perfect example of how calamitous the current Hollywood business model is for indie films. According to Turner, Yari had planned to distribute the film himself but then ran into financial difficulties (his distribution wing recently declared bankruptcy). Yari tried to drum up interest from various studio distributors but found no takers, largely because he'd already sold the film's DVD and pay-TV rights to Sony.

The real rub, as indie filmmakers have discovered in recent years, is that it costs nearly as much to market a film as it does to make it. "Maiden Heist," for example, was made for $20 million but clearly needed nearly another $20 million to be properly marketed in a theatrical release. Needless to say, there aren't many distributors willing to plunk down that kind of money for a film that -- despite its classy lineup of top actors -- has relatively limited commercial potential. 

It's why I always end up wondering each year what happened to some of the delightful little movies I saw at the Toronto Film Festival that never ended up seeing the light of day. "Maiden Heist" has its own set of special issues, largely owing to the involvement of Yari, who has burned a lot of bridges around town in the last few years by over-promising and under-delivering the goods.

But the lesson here is pretty simple: It's no longer enough to simply round up the financing for a film. In today's brutal, bottom-line environment, you need to have a plausible marketing strategy -- and plenty of moolah behind it -- before you start dreaming about your big opening weekend.

That is, unless you want to have your big movie opening at Wal-Mart.

Photo of William H. Macy, left, Morgan Freeman and Christopher Walken in "The Maiden Heist" from the Yari Film Group.

 
Comments () | Archives (6)

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Great Article. It is always intriguing to hear how high profile films are forced onto DVD before given a chance at the Box Office.

Glad to see a blur about this movie here. I attended the premiere in Worcester MA back in the spring at The Hanover Theatre.

The Worcester Art Museum was used for some of the interior shots and the film wanted to give back by holding a premiere in Worcester. Happy to know I am one of the few who ever saw it on the big screen.

It is a quirky little film and would be a great $1.00 rental at Redbox, but certainly would not pull down the proper $$ for a wide release even with a great cast.

Sorry, but like most "little" film festival items, this really had dubious theatrical appeal. There's nothing about it for young people and why would enough older people want to go through what to most of them is a hassle to see it in a theater when they can get it via various video outlets in 4 months or less? That's the point that keeps being ignored in aiming these kinds of films toward theatrical release. In addition to marketing funds, you also need more of an advertising hook than the presence of "three Oscar winners".

Rick Mitchell
Film editor/ Film Historian

Patrick, I'd be really interested to know what some of those delightful little movies were... just in case they ever come up on Netflix or TV... Thanks.

Nice article, Patrick. I just hink tht there is a story somewhere in the 400+ films released every year that get a one or two screen release.

Where's all the production $$ coming from.
Also what happens to all those foreign pre-sale contracts that are like this one, sold with a guaranty of domestic theatrical release, but orphaned, such as Yari, thinkfilm, Paramount Vantage, Warner Indie, yada yada yada . There's a number of lending banks, gap funds and mezzanine lenders who financed these films, which are taking the losses that no one wants to talk about. It's that perennial issue in Hollywood --use OPM, other people's money.

By the way, the NPR story is no deeper than a dozen I've seen this year

What a great little movie, and what a shame such movies get buried

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