Freelance writer Dominic Patten is a Deadline contributor
The anti-abortion drama October Baby opens in 390 theaters nationwide today, and according to distributor Samuel Goldwyn Films its domestic box office has the second-highest per-screen matinee average behind The Hunger Games. So how is an independent faith-based film — the feature debut of video directors and brothers Jon and Andrew Erwin and made for a budget of just more than $1 million — seem poised for success? Like its successful predecessors in the genre, it is relying on word-of-mouth from conservative religious groups. It’s an extension of a strategy that began last fall when October Baby was released for three weeks in 13 theaters in Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi, timed to to an ultimately unsuccessful Mississippi “personhood” ballot initiative and backed with funding from the American Family Association. Baby grossed $7,854 per screen for this period.
For the expansion, the coming-of-age film starring Rachel Hendrix, John Schneider, and Jasmine Guy has tapped into block buys of 1,000 tickets by faith-based groups at churches and colleges who pledge to purchase and distribute them among their members. Samuel Goldwyn and faith-based Provident Films are targeting primarily the Bible Belt: it’s playing 32 theaters in Texas; 14 in the Erwins’ native Alabama, whose governor declared March 23 “October Baby Day”; 23 in North Carolina; and 18 in Georgia. The film is only in nine theaters in New York state and six in Pennsylvania. In California, it is playing in 25 theaters but only two in LA and none in San Francisco. It is that dedicated, laser-targeted audience that helped make fellow faith-based fare Fireproof, starring Kirk Cameron, one of the most successful independent films of 2008, grossing $33.5 million. It also propelled last year’s Courageous, also from Provident, to a $34.5 million gross. “We think that a lot of them will go see October Baby again,” a source close to the film told Deadline. “It has that sort of appeal.”