When it comes to the science of dating a wide release, there are a couple of avenues a distribution head could go.
One former major studio distribution boss was known for walking the halls with a calendar in his back pocket, and when another senior executive would ask him when the studio should date a film, he’d whip out his calendar and call out a date. Another major studio in town has a huge digital calendar that they program with a multitude of information about the competition from which they weigh their options accordingly.
An old rule of thumb used by distribution when deciding on a pic’s release date is taking the five-year historical box office average of a particular weekend. The only thing is that data doesn’t take into account any surprises that could be on the horizon. For example, no one could have ever predicted It’s success in the post-Labor day window last year; its estimates swelled weekly, and then daily heading to its September $123.4M record opening.
However, ComScore, the company that’s the crossroads between exhibition and distribution when it comes to box office ticket sales, has banded together with Gower Street Analytics to create Forecast a theatrical release date optimization program which can help fi
lm distributors choose the ideal release date for their upcoming film. One of the first companies to use it was Tom Ortenberg’s start-up Briarcliff Entertainment which is releasing Michael Moore’s TIFF opening night documentary Fahrenheit 11/9 on Sept. 21. The pic is Moore’s WTF journey on how Donald J. Trump became the 45th President of the United States, and the title refers to the date he was declared president, Nov. 9, 2016.
“As we launch Briarcliff Entertainment with the wide release of Fahrenheit 11/9 from acclaimed filmmaker Michael Moore, it was vitally important that we select the best date. I have worked with comScore and its many box office analytics channels for years, and it was obvious where to look for help with our planning,” said Steve Bunnell, head of distribution at Briarcliff Entertainment. “We had our sights set on the fall and Forecast helped augment our research into the market behavior and optimal conditions to maximize our revenue and long-term value”.
The ComScore/Gower Street Forecast program encompasses an immense amount of data beyond each weekend’s historical B.O. performance. Other data interwoven into the program’s algorithm includes the director/cast/genre’s box office track record, school and national events calendars, as well as social media buzz on the film. Already ComScore has a measuring program for the latter called PreAct. The end result isn’t so much a box office predictor for a particular film, but how it can maximize its revenue against the competition in a future marketplace. Given how Briarcliff is currently building a slate as it gets off the ground, Forecast arrived at an opportune time.
Initially Briarcliff was thinking of a July release for Fahrenheit 11/9, but “looking at all the weeks in competition, and using this Forecast program, going in September expanded our ability with the film” says Bunnell. On Sept. 21, Fahrenheit 11/9 will arguably be one of the only fresh wide choices out there for sophisticated adults, and will launch six weeks before the Nov. 6 mid-term elections. The pic’s competition that weekend includes Amazon’s Dan Fogelman adult drama Life Itself, Amblin/Universal’s family pic The House With a Clock in its Walls, and NEON’s under 25 pic Assassination Nation. Fahrenheit 11/9 will play in roughly 1,500 theaters and be backed by a nationwide TV campaign. The documentary is the second of Moore’s to open wide after 2004’s Fahrenheit 9/11 which was backed by mini-major money in Lionsgate, IFC and Miramax and earned $23.9M in its opening weekend at 868 theaters. Prior to playing stateside Fahrenheit 9/11 won the Palme d’Or and FIPRESCI prize at the Cannes Film Festival and ultimately became the highest grossing doc out of that fest ever with $222.4M worldwide. The doc truly hit a nerve and it wasn’t uncommon to hear stories about audiences cheering and clapping at the end of screenings.
Fahrenheit 11/9 was first announced at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival exclusively by Deadline where a foreign buyers sale was held by the Weinstein Co. However, Ortenberg, who worked with Moore on Fahrenheit 9/11 and his 2007 doc Sicko is overseeing theatrical on the movie following the shuttering of TWC. AGC International, the international sales and distribution arm of Stuart Ford’s AGC Studios, is handling foreign rights on the film.
The summer has been quite a hot season for documentary films starting off with Magnolia/Participant’s RBG about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ($13.9M) then playing into Focus Features’ Mister Rogers doc Won’t You Be My Neighbor? ($22.4M) and then NEON/30WEST’s Three Identical Strangers ($11.1M). Each title has reached their specialty audiences directly in the theater as they’ve trailered off of each other, spurring business with varying themes that speak to those audiences who’ve been completely turned off by the current Presidential administration. Now here comes the papa of all docs from the Oscar-winning Moore. Early projections show an opening for Fahrenheit 11/9 between $5M-$10M, but it would come as no surprise if he catches a wave here on the 2018 doc craze and the film overindexes.