Microbudget oddity Fateful Findings is the latest wannabe cult classic to wade into the waters infested by movies like SyFy’s low-budget phenomenon Sharknado. I can say with certainty it’s one of the most memorably terrible movies I’ve ever lived through. Filmmaker Neil Breen – a Las Vegas-based architect by day who wrote, directed, produced, edited, production designed, and cast himself front and center as the star of the pic to frequently awkward effect – has pacted with NY-based Panorama Entertainment targeting a handful of regional theatrical engagements hoping for hot word of mouth and repeat late-night bookings to propel the film into cult glory.
Breen and the pic, a sci-fi paranormal romance thriller about a novelist-turned-hacker who uncovers a government conspiracy while discovering his own repressed superpowers, got on hardcore cinephiles’ radar last year through film festival bookings and underground screenings with virtually no publicity effort in place. A cult following has incubated around its filmmaking flaws and idiosyncrasies, like Breen’s character’s predilection for getting naked and his habit of throwing laptops – 5,6, a dozen at a time – when frustrated. Panorama co-founder Stuart Strutin is banking on the pic’s WTF factor to find the special kind of audience that delights in this kind of hot mess spectacle cinema. “I think people want to be entertained – they don’t want to be hit over the head with informational movies about current events [like] The Fifth Estate,” says Strutin, who first saw Fateful Findings when it came across his desk as a blind submission. Panorama, a micro-distributor whose strategy includes opening features outside of the competitive L.A. and NYC markets, is plotting a January 19 midnight movie debut in Cleveland. They’ve also booked Seattle hoping word of mouth from Findings’ Seattle Film Festival screening will bring ticket buyers out into the rainy Northwest to tap their curiosities.
Precedents for cult movie success are few but flashy. On the peripheries of the mainstream dance the campy breed of Verhoeven’s classic Showgirls, while over in Europe Uwe Boll’s built an entire cottage industry out of bad movies. Tommy Wiseau‘s awful-some (that’s awful + awesome) The Room, which screened for ten years and became a spoon-throwing, celebrity-attracting one of a kind L.A. curiosity, actually spawned a DVD/Blu-ray release, a book deal, and regular worldwide theatrical bookings. James Nguyen’s Birdemic lost money on its initial $10K budget but snagged a home media release through genre label Severin Films and hatched a sequel. Last year Drafthouse Films unearthed the inept but feelgood 1987 martial arts pic Miami Connection and gave it a second life with theatrical, DVD & Blu-ray, VHS, and digital release. Thanks to Twitter and a catchy title, SyFy’s B-movie creature feature Sharknado (not to be confused with 2010’s Sharktopus, also from SyFy) had America so riveted this summer it added a theatrical run to capitalize on the momentum.
But the art of selling movies in this niche business is almost always dependent on embracing the awfulness. Findings first earned geek cred through screenings at Austin’s Ain’t It Cool-sponsored Butt-Numb-A-Thon and L.A.’s Cinefamily. Outside of those midnight movie hubs, and with no major P&A from Panorama, Findings will have to spark wannasee in the outerlands based on word of mouth alone. Also problematic: In the hot modern era of VOD, the film has no ancillary or digital strategy in place. I’m told Findings had at least one other specialty distributor knocking at Breen’s door before he went with virtual unknowns Panorama for zero upfront in exchange for certain guarantees and his involvement in all aspects of the film’s release and marketing. He Tweets and will eventually make in-person appearances at screenings if the film catches on. But I hear he’s also sensitive to the film’s “so bad it’s good” reputation and refuses to use that hook as a marketing tool. If so, he’d better be keeping a few extra laptops handy.