How ‘Atlas Shrugged’ Shocked Hollywood’s Marketing Machine
Despite its “awful” marketing plan, as one distribution exec calls it, the movie earned a $5,640 per-theater average opening: “Things have turned for us,” producer Harmon Kaslow tells THR.
“Shocking,” one executive said about the healthy business the low-budget film has been doing considering its “awful” marketing plan.
Awful or not, business has been brisk enough for producers Harmon Kaslowand John Aglialoro to expand from 299 theaters to 425 this weekend and to 1,000 by the end of the month, they toldThe Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday.
The two said they fielded 500 inquiries from theater bookers Monday but didn’t have enough film prints to fill orders.
“Things have turned for us,” Kaslow said. “When we started, exhibitors were not embracing the film like we thought they would. Now, we can pretty much go into as many theaters as we want. It’s just a matter of logistics.”
Kaslow has turned to Deluxe to crank out more prints because “initially we didn’t order more than we needed, so we’re behind the 8-ball.”
Kaslow and Aglialoro stood by their marketing campaign, which relied heavily on using the Internet to drum up support among members of the Tea Party, Libertarians and other Rand enthusiasts.
It’s a passionate bunch that didn’t need much encouragement. On Monday, for example, a caller to Dennis Miller’s radio show said he saw the film opening night and purchased another ticket on his way out of the theater that he didn’t use, just to support the film.
“We didn’t take the needle-in-the-haystack approach by running a bunch of TV ads looking for the needles who might want to see the film,” Kaslow said. “We turned that model on its head. When the needles looked for us, we advertised to them. We were getting 9 million online impressions a day from people looking for Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged and [the book's popular line] ‘Who Is John Galt?’”
Aglialoro, who co-wrote and financed the movie, said timing — politically speaking — also has worked to the film’s advantage, so an expensive marketing campaign wasn’t necessary.
“People are hungry for what these characters are saying,” he said. “They’re telling the government, ‘Don’t entitle me with your gifts and your involvement in my life, because there’s a price I’ll pay for that. Just leave me alone. Let me hang onto my life and pursue my passions and rational self-interest. That’s what will benefit society.’”
Aglialoro said his “aspiration” is to make Parts 2 and 3, though he won’t determine whether it makes economic sense for several weeks. He spent $10 million of his own money to make Part 1.
Merchandise, he said, is helping the cause. When Aglialoro obtained rights to the movie almost 19 years ago, he also got rights to sell such items as T-shirts, mugs, posters and even jewelry, though not dolls, video games and other “interesting exceptions.”
On Tuesday, the Website atlasshruggedpart1.com was sold out of its most expensive item: a $159 bracelet made of “Rearden Metal,” a replica of the one heroine Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling) wears in the film.
“The merchandise has taken off like we couldn’t believe,” he said. “We’re shipping to every continent.”
‘Atlas Shrugged: Part I’ Derails? (The First Tea Party Movie in Theaters Needs Our Help!)
So the numbers through today are in, and they paint an interesting picture.
The movie has grossed $1,820,470, including an Opening Weekend of $1,686,347. That made Atlas Shrugged: Part I the #14 movie in America, and it was only playing at 299 theaters, for an average per theater of ~$6070. That’s not bad, on a per-theater basis.
UPDATE (2011.04.20) Yesterday’s numbers added $135,401, for a Domestic Total as of Apr. 19, 2011, of $1,955,871. It should easily surpass the $2 Million total GROSS receipts mark today (4/20).
This movie is incredibly important; if it makes any money, and especially if it grosses more than double the initial investment, it could begin to show that there is a market for pro-freedom movies, and that the Tea Party/9.12 Project movement is hungry for movies that tell it like it is. And it will probably guarantee a second movie, and perhaps even a proper advertising campaign to promote the movie (and honestly, where are the conservative investors on this? You would think they would invest, and insist upon a real ad campaign, as it appears this was well made.
If you already saw this, what did you think? I haven’t seen it yet, but I plan to see it later today with my firstborn son, so I’m walking the talk on this. I hope all of you will see it and let us know what they think! Here are some of the trailers, for those who haven’t yet seen this historic movie (and here was our original discussion thread on this subject – Atlas Shrugged: Part I – A Movie 40 Years* In The Making), followed by the story of the financial situation of the movie from BoxOfficeMojo:
Video: Atlas Shrugged Trailer
by Brandon Gray | April 18, 2011
Atlas Shrugged: Part I was the top-grossing limited release of the weekend, generating $1.7 million at 299 single-screen locations.
For a pure independent release, Atlas Shrugged: Part I’s opening was fine. But for the first-ever adaptation of Ayn Rand’s influential mega-selling 1957 novel that had far more media hype than any other independent movie could dream of, it was disappointing.
There aren’t many direct comparisons, because it’s rare that an adaptation of such a famous book gets such a modest release. Atlas Shrugged: Part I opened higher than recent limited Christian movies The Grace Card and To Save a Life, and it was distributor Rocky Mountain Pictures’ third highest-grossing launch, behind End of the Spear and Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. But none of those movies are significant in the grand scheme of things. They’re all still blips, even if Atlas was a slightly bigger blip than many.
What’s more, Atlas Shrugged: Part I’s box office dropped six percent from Friday to Saturday, further indicating niche appeal. The movie would require exceptional holds moving forward to right its course.
Atlas Shrugged: Part I was reportedly produced for $10 million (not counting another $10 million or so for other expenses) in a rush to retain the movie rights before they reverted back to Ayn Rand’s estate, and its producers eschewed Hollywood (only one theater showed it in the Los Angeles area) after decades of failed attempts. Instead, they took a grass roots approach and tried to capitalize on the Tea Party movement, which was credited with the Republicans’ landslide win in last November’s election.
The conservative media championed Atlas Shrugged Part I, and the movie received plenty of general coverage as well (though the movie’s backers didn’t do much traditional marketing, such as television ads). It’s a topical movie, given the goings on in Washington (it was defiantly released on April 15, normally tax day), but topicality isn’t necessarily a theatrical draw, especially when the core audience is already flush with the topic. For example, Oliver Stone’s W. flopped and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps disappointed. The talk surrounding Atlas Shrugged: Part I was about its politics, when it should have been focused on the story and its deeper themes first. In effect, by jumping on the Tea Party bandwagon, the movie was ghettoized.
Didactics alone don’t carry the day. To the uninitiated (and to many of the initiated), Atlas Shrugged: Part I looked stilted, talky and cheap in its marketing. It was awkward to only do Part I without having Part II and III set in stone (The Lord of the Rings had all three movies lined up prior to the first one’s release), and people familiar with the book know that the question “Who is John Galt?” will not be answered in this movie, despite the trailer’s hype. Atlas Shrugged is known as one book, not three like The Lord of the Rings (even though it’s of comparable length to that entire trilogy). Additionally, Atlas Shrugged only shares some superficial political agreement with the mostly religious audience that the producers courted and is otherwise fundamentally different, so there was no passion of the Christ here. Such is the trouble with casting a narrow net when marketing a movie.
Boosters of Atlas Shrugged: Part I might point to the movie’s per theater average to spin it as a success (ex. “it did almost as much per theater as Scream 4!”), but spin is all it is. It’s a common ploy to cling to per-theater average to rationalize a soft run. Obviously, it’s easier for a small release to have a higher per-theater average than one at over 3,000 theaters (at any rate, Scream 4 was a disappointment itself).
If the people behind Atlas Shrugged: Part I claim success, they are invited to reveal the capacity the movie played to at each theater. If the movie only had screens with tiny capacities and sold a high percentage of the available seats, then that would be a legitimate positive point to latch onto.
One positive sign, though, would be if there’s a significant opportunity to expand. “We are looking to expand to 1,000 screens subject to logistics,” said producer Harmon Kaslow in an email. “There’s strong interest from the exhibitors and we’re getting very positive word of mouth from our core target audience.” Atlas Shrugged: Part I’s April 22 theater count will be reported on Thursday.
Demand Atlas Shrugged to your town: http://www.AtlasShruggedPart1.com/get_involved