Rick Santorum Testing Film Distribution and Exhibition Through Churches

'One Generation Away' marks the debut effort of a new strategy from the politician-turned-studio executive

A five-minute video promoting a film called One Generation Away has been sent to 3,000 religious leaders nationwide as Rick Santorum and his EchoLight Studios roll out a new exhibition strategy whereby movies will screen at churches instead of theaters.

One Generation Away is a documentary that tries making the case that Christianity is under attack in the U.S. Included are vignettes exploring the Hobby Lobby case where the retailer objected to having to supply certain kinds of birth control to its employees and of a cake-maker who was driven out of business for her refusal to participate in a same-sex wedding.

Santorum, a former U.S. senator and GOP presidential candidate, was named CEO of EchoLight 14 months ago. He previously signaled his desire to release films first through churches and One Generation Away marks the debut effort.

Churches may charge moviegoers whatever price they please and EchoLight gets $5 per ticket sold. Some are expected to aim for a modest profit while Santorum says he knows of others that plan to use the film as a major fundraising event, charging as much as $25 a head.

The faith-based market has become a favorite target of Hollywood lately, given the success this year of God's Not Dead and Heaven is For Real. Those movies, along with Dinesh D'Souza's America and Mark Burnett's Son of God, marketed through churches, but Santorum will take the effort to a different level by stripping theaters from the equation, at least initially.

"Many churches all over the country have the ability of theatrical quality projection and sound," Santorum said. "Instead of trying to encourage our church audience to go to the theater, how about our church audiences go to church?"

EchoLight intends on making four movies per year, each budgeted at less than $3 million, and assuming some success with One Generation Away the plan is to release each of them through churches. If a particular title proves popular enough, it could be plucked for theatrical distribution. Santorum says he'll also release films, including One Generation Away, at colleges and universities.

Santorum also sells EchoLight's movies to television (its western, The Redemption of Henry Myers, was on The Hallmark Movie Channel) though he says going forward he'd like churches to have about a five-week exclusive window first.

"Wherever it's appropriate, depending on how well it does in the church, then we'll take it to another venue," Santorum said.

Part of the marketing effort for One Generation Away includes an unorthodox premiere scheduled Friday in San Diego whereby anyone can attend for free as long as they sign up through their church or online. Santorum expects 500 people for the event.

"You've got to customize your business model to meet the market that you have," Santorum said. "We're intentional about making movies for the faith community and we just thought this was the next logical step."

Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com

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