'Tell' is a 'happy accident'

Startup Music Box scores with sleeper indie hit

Its title notwithstanding, "Tell No One" has become a word-of-mouth hit.

With almost no advertising, Guillaume Canet's layered French-language mystery about a doctor wrongly suspected of killing his wife has grossed nearly $1.7 million in a month of very limited release.

And it made those inroads with Music Box Films, a distributor that grew out of a Chicago art house just last year

Lawyer and real estate entrepreneur William Schopf, the label's founder, came to the movie biz almost by chance. He owned the building housing the Music Box art house theater in Chicago that he took over when the theater's previous operator moved out.

Then last year, Schopf decided to become a distributor. In part, he said it was a smarter way to expand than by just opening more theaters, and he also wanted to do something for his employees.

"It seemed like it would give some of the people who worked for us more career options," he said. One of his first moves was to hire Palm Pictures veteran Ed Arentz.

After two micro-releases, the company picked up "Tell No One." It had been passed over by some of the specialty divisions, but it still took more than six months for Music Box to close a deal with sales agent Europa Corp.

So what's driving boxoffice? Strong reviews in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and New Yorker certainly helped, particularly with the film's older demo. Press days for Canet — unusual for a small foreign film —were held in New York and Los Angeles. And the film belongs to a familiar genre of conspiracy-minded mystery movies.

But Arentz said, "I'd love to be able to take credit for it, but I don't think we've innovated too significantly. I think you might even call it a happy accident." (partialdiff)
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