Sarah Palin documentary 'The Undefeated' to roll out to other cities
Now it looks as though the documentary about her, "The Undefeated," has sought success with a similar strategy.
Directed and written by Stephen K. Bannon, the film opened this weekend in AMC Theatres in 10 selected digital markets -- the closest to Los Angeles being the city of Orange in Orange County -- going up against the opening of perhaps the biggest film of the summer, the final installment in the "Harry Potter" series.
According to a release Sunday from distributor ARC Entertainment, which partnered with digital distributor Cinedigm, the film grossed approximately $5,000 per screen through Saturday night, with "large markets trending towards weekend per screen averages above $10,000."
That's quite modest by Hollywood standards, but the rollout was booked quickly over three weeks, with marketing carried out through word-of-mouth and low-cost social media.
The release quotes Jill Newhouse Calcaterra, the chief marketing officer for Cinedigm, saying, " 'The Undefeated' is the perfect example of how digital cinema can benefit both producers and audiences. Starting with theater location selection, we worked quickly -- with precision accuracy -- to generate a terrific box-office result with virtually no marketing dollars.
"This is a new model that is going to benefit the entire entertainment industry and audiences who want to see unique products."
Palin remains in Alaska, on call for jury duty through the end of July, and it's unclear if the response to "The Undefeated" will affect her decision on whether to seek the GOP 2012 presidential nomination.
Although it's unlikely that many who are opposed to a Palin candidacy will queue up for the movie (unless it's their political or media job to do so), the film has the potential of moving the needle one way or the other among GOP voters and independents, as reaction spreads through conservative blogs and mainstream media outlets.
Below is an email Q&A conducted Sunday morning with Bannon.
Top of the Ticket: How do the opening-weekend figures stack up against your expectations (or hopes)?
Bannon: This was a high-risk strategy -- one I don't remember ever being attempted -- to open a documentary nationwide in such disparate markets with only 4 weeks prep with no media spend. And it paid off. Why -- we had distribution partners at ARC and Cinedigm that knew what they were doing and a theater chain that knows how to handle specialty film.
I thought $5k/screen would have been amazing ... and $10k a home run. We will be above $10k in key markets ... and all markets performed well.
Ticket: A story appeared in which a reporter talked about being in a empty theater at a just-after-midnight showing Thursday night into Friday, in Orange County. Do you think that story has any impact, good or bad, on your weekend attendance?
Bannon: The story had zero impact on anything ... and I never focus on nonsense. ... OC numbers were huge ... incredible numbers considering the competition there.
Ticket: How were the selected markets chosen?
Bannon: ARC/Cinedigm did analysis about a wide range of targets they felt could help launch, and they picked right.
Ticket: Based on the opening-weekend figures, what is your future roll-out plan?
Bannon: ARC/Cinedigm will announce tomorrow, but the film will now get rolled out over the next few weeks.
Ticket: The DVD is currently available those who contribute $100 or more to SarahPAC. Are there any TV or other DVD distribution deals in the works?
Bannon: We are focused on theatrical, but the strong reaction to the film means we are going to make deals to get the film everywhere.
Ticket: Big Hollywood.com conservative contributor Ben Howe of RedState.com said seeing the movie strongly affected his opinion of Palin. Did you intend the movie to be a political game-changer?
Bannon: I intended the film to tell the story of one of America's great leaders. The audience reaction means I think we are helping to let folks see her real narrative.
Ticket: Critics listed at Rotten Tomatoes have generally referred to the movie as "hagiography" or "propaganda," and some reporters have criticized the omission of familiar incidents from the 2008 campaign, such as the much-discussed Katie Couric interview. How do you respond to that?
Bannon: The critics talk about the marginalia of what I left out while acknowledging her [Palin's] great accomplishments. I will take that trade all day long.
Ticket: Do you have another project in mind?
Bannon: All my projects I do in secret, but it involves the continual crisis of America's financial collapse.
Note: we checked with the AMC 30 at the Block in Orange on Friday night, and the manager said the 7 p.m. show was sold out through advance ticket sales, with "small amounts" sold in advance at that point for showings through the weekend.
Another check Sunday revealed no other sold-out shows, and when asked to characterize the ticket sales, the manager said the film was "lost" amid the "Harry Potter" excitement. The AMC 30 will know Tuesday whether "The Undefeated" will get a second weekend.
-- Kate O'Hare
Media critic Kate O’Hare is a regular Ticket contributor. She also blogs about TV at Hot Cuppa TV and is a frequent contributor at entertainment-news site Zap2it. Also follow O'Hare on Twitter @KateOH
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Photos, from top: Sarah and Todd Palin; "The Undefeated" Poster. Credits: Paul Morigi/Getty Images; Victory Films