WattsUpWithThat championed the limited 4 screen release grosses for Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Sequel as a point of ridicule.   My original comment pointed out it was too soon to do this as it led all specialty box office grosses at $32,000 per screen.

Some of those who commented didn’t buy the per screen averages and don’t understand how Hollywood manipulates these to perpetuate their headlines.   My response below:

I understand your confusion. As someone who distributes films – let me explain it to you.

First you are correct in assuming that high numbers in very limited release is misleading. Deadline.com – must have sent out 5 stories about well it did in it’s first weekend based on the $32K/screen number.

It did only showed on 4 screens. But not all screens had the same number of showings each day. The average WAS $32,000 a screen and, as other commenters have mentioned, these are highly selected theaters that have not only been heavily promoted by a sympathetic demo media and mailings – it’s highly likely group sales account for the majority of these tickets. And this isn’t unusual at all. Some very good films that have a hard time getting media attention (which in turn attracts ticket buyers) start out small like this to generate national media attention, reviews and viral marketing as well as – as you mention – attract exhibitors who will now want to carry the film. Some very bad films also are done in this staged released method to save face for the filmmaker, studio or to simply increase their chance to snare a TV/cable, VOD or DVD distribution deal prior to everyone labeling it a “bomb.”

Since Paramount is releasing the film – they very easily could bully some theaters into taking the film by threatening to withhold a major surefire money maker (Mission Impossible next summer) from their chain.

The daily grosses went from $61,457 ($15k+/screen) on Friday to $42,652 ($10,663/screen) on Saturday to $20,714 ($5,117/screen) on Sunday – all precipitous dropoffs that show even in their liberal enclave – it did not increase an audience at all (Saturday should have been the biggest showing because you have more patrons available at all hours of the day rather than (essentially) Friday evening crowds only).

This is horribly down from the original film which ALSO originally premiered in just 4 theaters. Per Deadline:
An Inconvenient Truth opened via Paramount Classics in May, 2006 taking in over $281K in its debut weekend in four locations, averaging $70,332, a bit more than double this weekend’s PTA for Truth To Power. An Inconvenient Truth went on to cume over $24.14M in U.S. theaters.

The filmmakers touted an “A” CinemaScore rating – which of course is easily attained by only tallying the choir who are attracted to it in the first place.

Inconvenient Truth only reached 587 screens in a wider release (most major films never release on less than 1,200 screens and blockbusters double that) but did an impressive business in – again – highly selected urban markets.

My comment had nothing to do with the quality (extremely subpar) of the film by aesthetic standards, the content appeal to audiences (pathetic as proven in the daily box office on 4 screens) or the projected success of a wider release (which will fail miserably).

My point to Watts is that while having a pig roast on red meat for those of us who know it be utter BS is great – the REAL target are for those friends, neighbors and relatives on Facebook who are the ones needing to be educated. The Hollywood hype model can not be overcome by claiming it “failed” on 4 screens when it “won” the weekend of all limited release films. Even highlighting the horrific 30% dropoff from Friday to Saturday is to nuanced for the average observer. NEXT WEEKEND however will provide all kinds of REAL data that will impact the people we are trying to persuade with truth. They won’t get 500 screens giving a headline that the sequel is a “bomb” because no theater wants to pick it up. Even if Paramont was to force it into 400+ Theaters – the daily premier dropoff suggests this will be in theater for a week or two – likely under $1000 a screen – the kiss of death in the movie industry.

Keep your powder dry – and blast out it’s terrible market acceptance next week.