The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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How three Oscar winners = one straight-to-video movie

September 1, 2009 |  5:39 pm


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.