Mel Gibson Get The GringoEXCLUSIVE: The acquisitions market at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival was all about deals that combined small theatrical releases with major day-and-date VOD and DVD. But no major star has dared to bypass theaters to gamble on ancillary distribution with a project that is right in his wheelhouse. Until now. Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions has made an innovative deal with 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment for a domestic direct-to-consumer release of Get The Gringo, a south-of-the-border gritty action film that Gibson stars in and financed. The film has been set for an exclusive premiere window May 1 on DirecTV, which will charge $10.99 per home viewing. A wider release on Blu-ray, VOD, and digital download will follow later in the year. DirecTV, which has almost 20 million subscribers, has the exclusive on the film for more than a month, and it moves to other VOD menus by early summer.

Now, it might be easy to conjecture that Gibson’s recent personal issues were a reason to bypass theaters, especially after The Beaver grossed less than $1 million domestic. I think this is different — a ballsy move by a maverick entrepreneur whose willingness to break rules led him to self-finance the $30 million R-rated The Passion Of The Christ and watch it gross $371 million domestic and $612 million worldwide (still the biggest indie film of all time), and spend $40 million to fund Apocalypto, a film that grossed $51 million domestic and $121 million worldwide.

Get The Gringo DIRECTVGet The Gringo is an R-rated fastball down the middle for Gibson fans. Directed by Adrian Grunberg from a script he wrote with Gibson, the film has action, dark humor and plenty of violence. Gibson plays Driver, who, during a high-speed car chase with the U.S. Border Patrol and a bleeding body in his back seat, crashes into the border wall as he tries to escape. He survives, only to be placed inside a hard-core Mexican prison where he enters the strange and dangerous world of “El Pueblito.” There, he finds unlikely survival guidance from a 10-year-old kid who shows him the ropes.

Fox and DirecTV and Icon will do a national marketing campaign for the movie, which will start with a premiere screening event in Austin hosted by Ain’t It Cool News founder Harry Knowles. Knowles will preside over a post-screening Q&A with Gibson, Grunberg and Kevin Hernandez, who plays the kid in the film. Screenings will be held that night in at least 10 markets, with the post-premiere discussion streamed to those audiences. That will be the only theater penetration in the U.S. for the film. Icon is handling overseas, and some territories, including Australia and Russia, will do a traditional theatrical release.

Mel Gibson DIRECTVMel Gibson“Mel has an uncanny ability to predict audience demand for movies distributed through innovative models to the highest levels of success, most notably with The Passion Of The Christ and Apocalypto,” Knowles said in a statement. “Here he once again challenges the status quo by bringing this authentic Peckinpah-ian pulpy tale directly to fans.”

Gibson hasn’t stepped away from the traditional theatrical release that made him a star with the Lethal Weapon films and Braveheart, which won him Best Picture and Best Director Oscars. His Icon label is developing an epic period Viking film that Gibson will direct, and which his Braveheart writer Randall Wallace has just turned in a second script draft. And Gibson and Joe Eszterhas are writing for Warner Bros an epic drama about Jewish warrior Judah Maccabee, who teamed with his father and four brothers to lead the Jewish revolt against the Greek-Syrian armies that had conquered Judea in the second century B.C. Gibson will likely direct that film as well, which is also being produced through Icon.

Sources inside Icon said that Gibson sparked to the chance to road-test a new distribution model for domestic, which has a more mature VOD delivery system than offshore at this point. They went exclusively with DirecTV because, aside from its nearly 20 million subscribers, “they are a marketing powerhouse and are one of the most innovative VOD distributors,” said the sources. “We really wanted to lean into this, and they will do a very significant marketing campaign around it. It was a great way to launch this particular movie. A lot of those Sundance films going to VOD might not have a major star or be strong enough commercially to attract a wide audience. When we tested Get The Gringo, it tested 86% in the top two boxes, with all four quadrants.”

In a statement, Fox Home Entertainment president Mike Dunn said: “As digital distribution evolves, we are constantly looking at new ways to bring the consumer greater access than ever before to our movies. Reaching nearly 20 million households on the DirecTV premium platform offers us an opportunity to explore innovative approaches like this one for Get The Gringo.”

The benefit of VOD is that a big P&A spend is replaced by a smaller outlay, much of which is supplied by cable system partners whose split (I’ve heard they keep between 30% to 40%) is more favorable than theater chains charge. The danger, of course, is that the film slips through the cracks, but if this works, it will become more important a test case than Margin Call, which grossed around $10 million worldwide theatrical and did another $4 million on VOD.

Below is a new trailer for Get The Gringo:

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