Controversial 'Alone Yet Not Alone' to Be Released in 200 Theaters
Alone Yet Not Alone, the Christian movie that generated controversy when its Oscar nomination for best song was rescinded two months ago, will be released on 200 screens June 13 through a distribution company that guarantees an audience to theaters that agree to show their films.
Alone Yet Not Alone is based on the true story of sisters Barbara and Regina Leininger, who were captured by Delaware Indians during the French and Indian War circa 1755. The film played briefly in 11 markets last fall and garnered a healthy per-screen average of $11,434, in part because many seats were presold through Seatzy, a company launched last year for the purpose of distributing primarily faith-based and family friendly movies.
When Seatzy distributes a film, it posts a photo, description and trailer at Seatzy.com and, through an arrangement with Amazon.com, allows those interested in seeing it to reserve a ticket several weeks in advance. Oftentimes, churches and other groups will reserve dozens of tickets in a particular market. Once 500 tickets are reserved in a geographic area, Seatzy entices a nearby theater to show the film for at least a week by guaranteeing a prepaid audience.
Seatzy CEO Dan Merrell says he founded the company to “take the mystery out of where to open a small film and how wide, because too many theaters, distributors and investors were losing money.”
Seatzy’s business model includes promoting films it distributes by prebuying a group of tickets that it sends to ministries and churches, as well as to Christian radio shows that give them to listeners.
“We find this strategy has really paid off for us with over 80 percent of consumers with comp tickets showing up for the show, and buying soda and popcorn,” says Merrell.
OPINION: Was Academy's Disqualification of Song Contender 'Alone Yet Not Alone' Justified?
The strategy, though, also has led some to speculate that the per-screen average for Alone Yet Not Alone was artificially inflated, but Merrell says that more than 50 percent of the sales for that film during its limited release seven months ago came from walk-up traffic.
Seatzy has been releasing small-budget independent films on as few as three and as many as 25 screens, so Alone Yet Not Alone will be by far its biggest project. George Escobar, the film’s co-writer, co-director and co-producer, figures the movie deserves a 200-screen release not only because of an impressive per-screen average during its “test” release last year, but also because it generated so much press after the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences took away its nomination for best song.
While many accused the Academy of engaging in either a bias against small-budget films or Christian movies -- or both -- Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs said the nomination was yanked because the song’s co-author, Bruce Broughton, violated rules by emailing voters and asking them to give it a listen.
“The controversy certainly got the name of the movie and of the song out there,” says Escobar. “Hopefully the truism holds that there’s no such thing as bad press.”
Broughton says he is still “ticked off” that his Oscar nomination was rescinded, but he agrees with Escobar about the extra attention. “In the final analysis, it was great for the movie. People will want to see it to figure out what all the hoopla was about,” he says.
Broughton laments, though, that the TV audience was deprived of getting to known Joni Eareckson Tada, the 64-year-old quadriplegic woman confined to a wheelchair who sang the song in the film and presumably would have been invited to sing it during the Oscar telecast, as was the case with the other nominees.
“She probably couldn’t have sung it live. Watch the YouTube video and you’ll see her husband actually pressing on her stomach to get her the air she needs,” Broughton says. “But if she had been there to walk -- or actually ride -- the red carpet and maybe lip-synch the song, it would have been a great Oscar moment. But it won’t happen now.”
Alone Yet Not Alone was produced for $7 million by Enthuse Entertainment, a production company co-owned by Dr. James Leininger, a descendant of the Leininger sisters, the subjects of the movie. His daughter, Tracy Leininger Craven, wrote the novel on which the film is based.