When a film director suggested releasing eight low-budget horror movies to be shown for one weekend only, Mark Borde couldn't believe his own reaction. "I actually said, 'That's a good idea,' " recalled Borde, co-president of Freestyle Releasing LLC, an independent film distributor in Malibu.
The anthology "8 Films to Die For" opened in 488 theaters nationwide on Nov. 17. During its three-day lifespan, it grossed $2.3 million to rank number 10 in the weekend box office competition.
"8 Films" amounted to an ad-hoc film festival. Each theater agreed to show three films on Friday, another three on Saturday and then two on Sunday. Each film had two showings. As it worked out, the fest turned in strong numbers for per-screen revenues ($4,735), beating six of the top 10 films, according to data from Exhibitor Relations Co. All the other films among the top 10 had at least 1,200 screens.
Perhaps Borde would have reacted differently if the initial suggestion hadn't come from Courtney Solomon, director of last summer's "An American Haunting." That film, distributed by Freestyle, grossed more than $20 million and was, in Borde's words, "a homerun for us."
Solomon's follow-up project "8 Films" was based on a marketing formula developed for "Haunting." It allowed the entrepreneur to reach his core audience of 18- to 34-year-old males in a more cost-effective way than the major studios.
According to Borde, studios usually distribute a film by picking a date, spending $20 million on advertising, putting the movie in 3,000 or more theaters and hoping for the best. Even the ad spending follows a formula, with set percentages going to TV, radio, Internet and newspapers.
But "Haunting" used billboards and the Internet to reach its target audience. For "8 Films," Freestyle repeated that strategy, buying outdoor ads in 35 top markets and banners on horror-related Web sites. As a kicker, the distributor bought a few cable spots on MTV and Spike TV, both channels that target young males.
However, some in the industry point out that while the message reached the core horror audience, it didn't expand it to the mainstream.
"When you release a movie, you need a sense of urgency that only TV and the Internet can create," said David Garber, chief executive of Lantern Lane Entertainment LLC, an independent film distribution consultancy in Calabasas which did not work on "8 Films." "Publicity like outdoors is great, but it works as an adjunct to a more compelling campaign."
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