Former movie executive Jim Ballew has written an excellent blog essay assessing The Undefeated’s successful opening weekend.
Ballew has been involved in the movie business for nearly 20 years, providing marketing, management and media outreach for various entertainment companies including October Films, Visual Entertainment, TheatreVISION, Premier Pictures, Jobete (Motown publisher) and Transition Music. He assisted on grassroots marketing for the Golden Globe nominated, The Apostle, and is currently working on a screenplay titled God Is Not A Type A Personality.
I’ve excerpted and edited his major points. You can read the whole thing here.
Much has been made – on both sides – of the opening weekend grosses for The Undefeated political documentary. There was a cry from blogs and mainstream press that it didn’t even come close to Fahrenheit 9/11 or An Inconvenient Truth either in total dollars or per screen averages.
Slate writer David Weigel opined, “…the new film isn’t showing signs of broad-based success.”
This is always the first arrow in the Hollywood quiver. Movie Quality = Box Office Totals.
It is strange then that Mr. Weigel makes his claim AFTER saying: “This isn’t a perfect comparison, because Moore’s film had a far bigger paid media campaign and stronger distribution network than Bannon’s film.
So Mr. Weigel ADMITS MEDIA and DISTRIBUTION play a large role, and then he proceeds to use a different standard to judge The Undefeated. Someone should revoke his laptop access code.
So can we measure The Undefeated’s ‘success’ (or lack thereof) intelligently?
Sure we can, by the following criteria:
Total financial gross opening weekend
… [A]ccording to IMDB.com’s category of political documentaries, The Undefeated was #15 all-time in opening weekend grosses REGARDLESS of the number of screens [competing against films like Fahrenheit 9/11 that opened in more than 800 screens. The Undefeated grossed $65,132.]
Total financial gross over the run of the film
… Even if it never made another penny, The Undefeated would rank #15 for political documentaries opening with 10 screens or more. Forty-two of the top 100 [political documentaries all-time] only debuted with one screen and more than half of the top 100 never even made it to 10 screens for the run of the film. By any measurement The Undefeated is ALREADY close to being in the top 50 political documentary TOTAL grosses in just its first week. [Note: Box office receipts often constitute a small portion of a film's total revenue.]
As reported in Politico: One independent film analyst told POLITICO that for a little-advertised documentary with a very limited release, The Undefeated did quite well.
“In the most basic sense, anytime a documentary is selling out screens in a movie theater, it’s already successful,” said Phil Contrino, editor of Boxoffice.com.
Gross per screen (opening and total run)
… If you take out all openings of less than 10 screens – The Undefeated’s $6513 per screen average is #2 behind Fahrenheit 9/11 again – without ANY paid advertising. There is nothing to suggest this is a failure by any box office measurement.
Profit (gross minus cost of production and marketing)
Of course it is too early to know how much this film will make. Politico’s Ben Smith quotes industry analyst Bruce Nash as expecting the film to gross between $4 million and $5 million. And these days theatrical releases only count for 25% to 30% of revenues – the lions share coming from DVD and TV right licensing.
What is groundbreaking is that The Undefeated may be the first nationwide release to ONLY be released digitally. Not only does this save the cost of expensive film prints – it gave The Undefeated the ability to be in theaters in three weeks from final editing.
Bannon says The Undefeated was made for about $1 Million. Fahrenheit was reportedly made for about $6 Million. For some weird reason Hollywood never wants to include the MARKETING costs or the theater owners cut of the movie ticket but traditionally 30% to 50% of the production budget is spent on marketing. This would bring Fahrenheit to $8 Million or $9 million not including the millions of free publicity garnered from newsprint, news shows and radio interviews.
We have no idea what the total ad budget was for most of these other documentaries either. But if indeed Victory Films spent ZERO on advertising for radio, TV (and the minimum required by theaters to list the film in print) as they claim, a 50% to 75% profit prior to DVD release is VERY impressive. Believe me – just as no executive could explain the success of Passion of the Christ (and immediately started developing Christian biopics just in case) – no one can predict where this film will go. More likely is that at least indie studios, if not mainstreams, will need to rethink their model.
Wouldn’t that be hilarious if the “unsuccessful” Undefeated was actually the first successfully all digital release that executives have salivated over for years?
The short answer is, of course, we don’t know. But the other political documentaries to which The Undefeated is being compared – CAN be measured. An Inconvenient Truth did an amazing $70,000 per screen average (four screens) when it opened and continued to do $12,000 per screen a few weeks later. But it was so filled with errors that the United Kingdom government has banned it from classrooms unless it carries a disclaimer of nine scientific errors.
Worse, the very emails of the scientists used at the center of the UN IPCC report (upon which the movie was based) admit there was no real evidence for ‘warming’ and now over 1000 scientists openly challengedman made global warming.Meanwhile the US has spent millions to ‘sequester carbon’ and the DOE/EPA continue to borrow money to justify a science that is at very best “unsettled.” That could be why GALLUP reports only 44% of US citizens believe in man made global warming a stupendous drop from 71% in 2007.
Impact = fail.
How about Fahrenheit 9/11? Clearly targeted at George W. Bush, GWB’s approval numbers continued to plummet through 2004 when F9/11 was released) to historic lows by the end of his Presidency. Certainly deserved for some who willingly orchestrated the death of nearly 3,000 people, right? Uhhmm, not so much. As an example, the film claims Gore had the votes to win the 2000 election but a six-month study in 2001 by a consortium of six major news organizations — the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Tribune Co. (parent of the L.A. Times), Associated Press and CNN; plus two Florida papers, the Palm Beach Post and St. Petersburg Times found otherwise.
And Bush’s poll numbers? He currently stands at 45% approval(US News) equal to that of Barack Obama.
So what finally to make of the numbers? From Hollywood’s perspective they begrudgingly have to admit The Undefeated is not a failure. … From the conservative perspective – it is a very, very big success when conservative movies like I Want Your Money made $464 per screen. Even against movies from Al Franken and Michael Moore’s Sicko – it is a resounding opening week success. How big is still to be determined – likely by the grassroots forces that want to see Palin run for President.