The Internet and other trades found great click bait in declaring that Vertical Entertainment’s Kevin Spacey drama Billionaire Boys Club was the lowest-opening ever of the fallen actor’s career with a $618 opening at 11 theaters. But the reality is you’d have to be a psychic to know that the film was playing anywhere.
Furthermore, for a distributor like Vertical in the theatrical VOD business, it’s not about what money is made at the box office but on VOD, and industry sources believe that Billionaire Boys Club easily could churn a seven-digit revenue on pay-per-view at the end of the day (that said, in no way is this $15M-budgeted drama starring Baby Driver‘s Ansel Elgort headed for any profit). And in the wake of the Spacey scandal, VOD was the best way to go for this movie. The pic at one point ranked in the top 20 on iTunes. Read on.
Billionaire Boys Club never was positioned for a theatrical release in the specialty sense of the word like a Focus Features or even an Amazon release. By and large, cable contracts with theatrical-VOD distributors dictate a one-week, 10 big-city market theatrical run. This is so that a film, like Billionaire Boys Club, can be slotted in the “In theaters” portion of a VOD menu and be rented/sold at a higher price. Furthermore with a VOD release, the distributor “four-walls” the film for a week at a theater, which is what happened here with Billionaire Boys Club, meaning the distributor literally rents each theater in each market for around $5K-$10K a week.
Some AMC theaters were part of Billionaire Boys Club‘s play, and they have a policy of not playing national theatrical/VOD releases. So the only way to get around that rule is for a distributor to rent or “four-wall” the theater. In the case of Billionaire Boys Club, Vertical rented in L.A., Chicago, San Francisco, Detroit, Phoenix, Sarasota, Tampa, Minneapolis, Miami, New Orleans and Hartford, CT. So, it’s not like a typical distributor-exhibitor film gross rental where ticket sales are split, and it’s not like a distributor is getting ideal venues. When you have a VOD theatrical release, you’re lucky to get a screen, especially in this summer marketplace. The whole 10-theater play in sync with VOD is one of the stale deal points left behind from when the theatrical-VOD craze kicked off with Steven Soderbergh’s Bubble back in 2006.
Since theatrical is just a qualifying means for VOD releases, smaller distributors won’t throw that much cash behind their cinema plays. Any P&A spent here for Billionaire Boys Club, which can run as low as $25K and as high as $750K for a more prestige title, was on VOD, and in that case is a cost shared with the cable provider. The cast of Billionaire Boys Club never did any PR for the film, and you can’t blame them because they’d be put in the embarrassing position for having to comment on Spacey’s history.
The media would love to declare that no one went to Billionaire Boys Club in the theater strictly because of Spacey, when the real reasons are that a majority of people didn’t even know the film was playing and never saw any national ads (an online trailer dropped two months ago but not in a massive way); furthermore none of the one sheets or VOD kiosks featured Spacey’s image or name. His likeness was wisely hidden.
Some distributors like IFC still take the theatrical portion of their VOD runs seriously and put some heft behind it — read The Catcher Was a Spy, which has grossed $710k. But for many distributors in the VOD business, the cash is at home with cable and Internet.
“It’s window dressing,” said one day-and-date maven about the theatrical side of VOD’s equation. “Some insist it’s gaming the system, and really it’s unnecessary.”