As Oscar nominees circulate in theaters, exhibitors are studying where and when to play Best Picture contenders during the long run-up from nominations February 8 through the awards March 27, juggling holdovers and new releases. (See this weekend’s specialty box office offerings below).
In an interview with Deadline, Zach Nix, senior film buyer at Alamo Drafthouse, talks programming at the expanding chain, the state of specialty film and a brighter industry outlook after a tough road through Covid. Nix, previously Alamo’s director of content licensing, was promoted in late January after head film buyer Kevin Holloway moved to Landmark Theatres as president.
DEADLINE: How are you approaching programming Oscar Best Picture nominees ahead of the awards given the lead time?
ZACH NIX: Yes, there’s a bit of a longer road map from nominations to Oscars this year. I kind of think of it as two categories. The films that already had their first runs that got nominated, like a Dune or King Richard. For those movies, it’s all about identifying a strategic weekend where we see the opportunity to bring a certain title back and look to do it across various markets. We brought back West Side Story in some markets this week.
The other half is some of the Best Picture nominees that are still very much in their first-run release, like Licorice Pizza or Drive My Car. For those, the core runs have hung in, and we will look at where else to play them, maybe adding smaller markets. (We’ve been playing Licorice Pizza in Brooklyn since Thanksgiving and that theater is also No. 1 with Drive My Car.)
We’ll play the Oscar-nominated shorts next week in a handful of theaters.
DEADLINE: Drive My Car is having a great run for a three-hour foreign-language film. Did it surprise you?
NIX: I really believe in that movie. I was close with the distributor of the film [Sideshow/Janus Films], had seen it and had a good feeling. I didn’t know for certain that it would make it all the way [to a Best Picture nom], but I was very happy that happened. After seeing what Parasite did pretty recently, it was nice to see a film as good as Drive My Car pull that off. It is very encouraging to see an international foreign-language arthouse film do as well as it’s been doing. Same for Worst Person In The World, right? This is the turning of the tide we want to see for specialty film. They’re not the kinds of film you could sell to your average consumer. But both are very well reviewed and definitely benefit from strong word of mouth.
DEADLINE: Alamo has 37 theaters including new locations in lower Manhattan and Washington, D.C., and just announced plans for seven new cinemas. That’s got to feel good after the hit the industry took?
NIX: It’s been a long road through the pandemic. It feels great to have the majority of the theaters reopened and chugging along, the new additions in Manhattan and DC Bryant Street, with more to come. I definitely feel encouraged at where thing are now compared to a month ago. Omicron was a bit of a concern and a scare when it first reared its ugly head, just when things seemed to be recovering. Our market share is really strong and I feel encouraged about the industry. We go through February then there’s The Batman [March 4], and I am very excited about the future. There were a lot of release changes in January by some of the studios as a preemptive move because of Omicron. But now we have Jackass Forever and Death on the Nile and a strong return to business. And people are sticking to their release dates and wanting to get their product out there
DEADLINE: The circuit is distinguished by its mix: wide releases, specialty fare and curated films. How do you chose what goes where?
NIX: Every theater is a little different. In some markets, we have multiple theaters so one leans a little more commercial, a little more family, and another could be more specialized. Several of our flagship spots in L.A. or NYC or Austin or San Francisco can really cater to the film-buff, arthouse crowd. It’s about identifying the right product, how they perform. And there’s always new product coming out each week and we support it, support our studio partners. Right now we are also running through all of the Harry Potter films — we’re on the third one, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In other theaters we’re playing Somewhere In Time [1980 romantic drama starring Christopher Reeve] and in some I’m a Cheerleader [1999 satirical teen comedy]. A wide variety.
DEADLINE: And you’ve got a full restaurant menu – that’s a differentiator, right?
NIX: Yes, in most theaters. That’s an offering not every circuit has. It’s a great menu and for certain kinds of titles we are the perfect place to go, to eat a burger, have a beer — like Jackass Forever. It becomes a destination. You can have fun watching and have a laugh with some friends. We are called Alamo Drafthouse for a reason.
For exhibition in general, now more than ever, it’s important to be unique. For exhibitors to shine, to prove their worth to the consumer. To innovate, to have new promotions, new marketing ideas, to really being on top of their operations. It’s a really an important time for exhibitors to be innovating.
This Week’s Specialty Openings
The Cursed from LD Entertainment on 1,687 screens. The gothic thriller, a reimagining of the werewolf legend for a modern-day audience from writer-director Sam Ellis, premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival under the title Eight for Silver. Stars Boyd Holbrook (The Sandman, Logan), Kelly Reilly (Yellowstone, True Detective) and Alistair Petrie (Sex Education, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story).
Super LTD is releasing Ted K on 28 screens. Written and directed by Tony Stone and starring Sharlto Copley. A journey into the tortured mind of The Unabomber.
From IFC Midnight, A Banquet. Psychological horror film about a family in the midst of a breakdown is the directorial debut of Scottish filmmaker Ruth Paxton. It premiered at TIFF in 2021. In 33 theaters. The plot: Widowed mother Holly (Sienna Guillory) is radically tested when her teenage daughter Betsey (Jessica Alexander) insists that her body is no longer her own but in service to a higher power. Bound to her newfound faith, Betsey refuses to eat but loses no weight.
Netflix is releasing Rory Kennedy’s Downfall: The Case Against Boeing at IFC Center in New York City, the Bay in L.A. and Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley. The doc investigates two Boeing 737 Max crashes that killed 346 people, exploring both the root causes and the human cost.
Music Box Films presents fantasy/romantic satire Strawberry Mansion on 28 screens. Written and Directed by Albert Birney & Kentucker Audley. Staring Audley and Penny Fuller. An unassuming dream auditor gets swept up in a cosmic journey.
Pursuit from Liongate opens on 18 screens. John Cusack and Emile Hirsch star in the father-son hacker thriller drected by Brian Skiba.
King Knight from XYZ Films, a coven comedy written and directed by Ricky Bates Jr that premiered Montreal-based Fantasia. On 5-10 screens, mostly one-offs at Alamo Drafthouse theaters.
Danish film The Pact from Juno Films from Oscar- and Palme d’Or-winning director Bille August (Pelle the Conqueror, House of Spirits), based on the true story of Out of Africa author Karen Blixen. On four screens: Quad NYC, NuArt LA, Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, CA, and Guild Cinema in Albuquerque.
The Last Bus from Samuel Goldwyn Films. Director: Gillies MacKinnon. Writer: Joe Ainsworth. Timothy Spall is 90-year-old Tom Harper on an epic road trip from his home in a remote village in the far north of Scotland to his birthplace in England.
Fathom Events presents Lady Sings the Blues 50th Anniversary, on Sunday (and on February 23). With this year marking the 50th anniversary of its release, Turner Classics is honoring the film with special screenings in select Regal theaters nationwide.
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