Allow me to preface this: I could not be happier to hear that director Jonathan Levine’s dark teen drug comedy The Wackness is about to be purchased by a studio for distribution. After waiting all week and talking to Levine on Thursday about the tedious waiting game, it was becoming very frustrating to see that this film had not been picked up by a visionary studio like Fox Searchlight or Focus Features — two companies that could very easily find a way to market this film and put people in the seats. With great marketing, this could just as well have ended up being this year’s Juno.
So I am sad to hear from our friends at indieWIRE that Sony Pictures Classics is in the process of closing a deal for The Wackness. This is probably one of the worst things that could have happened for the film, especially considering the way SPC has handled their films over the last 12 months. Take this into consideration: Academy Award nominated animated film Persepolis has made a total of $913k since its release on December 21. So far, it has played on no more that 30 screens. We are not talking about a crappy animated hack-job either — the movie got nominated for a fucking Oscar.
But wait, that’s not all. Sony Pictures Classics also buried the return of Francis Ford Coppola, Youth Without Youth. I know the film got critically panned, but you mean to tell me that you can’t make more than $200k in seven weeks of release? All it needed to say in the marketing campaign was “From the Director of The Godfather” and you instantly have a good chance at getting people to go see it. Try again, SPC.
And these are just the two most recent victims of Sony Pictures Classics bad handling of great movies. This doesn’t include great films like American Hardcore, Interview, My Kid Could Paint That, The Lives of Others, Art School Confidential and Volver, all great films released in the past two years that have not made over $15 million in their entire theatrical release. Hell, the last time they made more than $15 million with a film was 2005′s Capote, which was an entirely separate beast, driven mostly by Earth’s core hot critical acclaim.
Compare that to Fox Searchlight, who in 2007 took the juggernaut that was Juno to an $88 million dollar box office, 28 Weeks Later to a $28.6 million gross and Waitress to a $19 million gross. They even flubbed up the marketing on The Darjeeling Limited and still made $11.8 million. Are you starting to see a pattern?
So sure, there may be some marketing challenges in the quirky and sometimes very edgy nature of The Wackness, but I would feel much more comfortable — as a fan of the film — had it ended up with a more capable studio. We can still hold out hope that Sony Pictures Classic will have some divine intervention in their publicity and marketing campaign for this film — leaving them with an unexpected hit, but I seriously doubt it. They have proven time and time again that they are not willing to put the money into the marketing of their films and not able to be creative enough to build buzz. They are a studio that wouldn’t know what to do with a great film even if it came with a set of instructions.
Here’s holding out hope that they use The Wackness as a key to walk through the doorway to success in marketing, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Keep an eye on our Sundance 2008 Homepage for more from Park City.