When 47 Meters Down was released on June 16, the shark thriller, in which Mandy Moore and Claire Holt star as two sisters on a diving expedition gone horribly wrong, took an unexpectedly large bite out of the domestic box office.
Its opening weekend of $12 million wasn’t at all bad for a $5 million to $6 million indie — shot by writer-director Johannes Roberts, mostly in a water tank in the decidedly unglamorous British town of Basildon (exteriors were done in the Dominican Republic) — and a film that had unceremoniously been served a C rating by CinemaScore.
The following week, 47 Meters Down didn’t just manage to avoid sinking, but actually rose a place — from fifth to fourth, leapfrogging All Eyez on Me, while week three saw the film drop just 34 percent, the best hold of any film in the top 10. A month from launch, it currently boasts a domestic haul of more than $42 million, a major achievement given its early tracking of around $13 million to $14 million.
“We were written off along the way for sure,” admits Wayne Marc Godfrey, managing director and co-founder of Fyzz Facility, the prolific U.K.-based financier that fully backed and produced the film. Godfrey had been brought the project by Mark Lane and James Harris of production house The Tea Shop & Film Company, which in 2016 joined the Fyzz family as The Fyzz Facility Pictures. “To catch a wave and hit an audience and maintain a presence in theaters is such a feat. I think it took a few people by surprise.”
But this success is all the more remarkable given the story behind 47 Meters Down‘s release and the eleventh hour rescue mission involving a Weinstein, a former stand-up comedian, and a last-minute DVD recall that saved it from potential home video obscurity.
After the project secured a few presales off the back of a VFX teaser, U.S. rights were picked up by Bob Weinstein’s Dimension Films, which came aboard 47 Meters Down at script stage in 2014. Dimension also contributed more money further down the line to help enhance the film.
“But there was never any theatrical release commitment or requirement under their deal,” says Godfrey. “The film was made at a budget that was really positioned as a high-end home entertainment movie with the potential for theatrical.”
However, after the film was shot in 2015, the positive reaction from test screenings convinced Fyzz — which Godfrey set up in 2010 with Robert Jones — that 47 Meters Down deserved a shot in cinemas.
But by this stage, Dimension had already set a home video release date of Aug. 2, 2016. The Weinsteins were also having a troublesome summer, with a number of underperforming films and a failed TV sale. In July 2016, TWC shunted wide theatrical launches of two major titles — Tulip Fever and The Founder — to the following year, with insiders telling THR that there simply wasn’t the money to support their 2016 release.
Adding to the complications, June 2016 also saw the release of another shark survival thriller. The Shallows, starring Blake Lively, did phenomenal business, earning some $55 domestically ($119 million worldwide) off a $17 million budget. According to Dimension at the time, the initial plan had been to release 47 Meters Down before The Shallows, which had been completed afterwards, but when this proved impossible they opted to scale back.
“We decided to go with a more conservative release strategy that would take place this summer,” said Dimension’s senior vp production and creative affairs Matthew Signer.
“For whatever their reasons were, Bob and Dimension just couldn’t work out the right kind of plan and scheduling to do the release in the way we felt the film deserved,” says Godfrey. “Nothing against their view of the movie. I just think their strategy within Dimension at the time didn’t tie up with where we as filmmakers believed it could go.”
While it was widely agreed that the timing was wrong and cinemagoers weren’t ready for two shark films in quick succession, Fyzz was prepared to wait.
Enter Entertainment Studios, the TV production and distribution banner of former stand-up Byron Allen. Allen had established the company in 1993, initially to make comedy shows, but it had grown over the years to become the largest independent producer/distributor of first-run syndicated programming for broadcast TV. In October 2015, it made a major move into film with the acquisition of indie distributor Freestyle Releasing.
Following weeks of discussions, on the exact day of the original release on Aug. 2, 2016 and as DVDs were in trucks and on their way to stores (in some cases they were already on shop shelves), a deal was finally closed between Dimension and Entertainment Studios — reportedly for seven figures — that would alter the course for 47 Meters Down.
Not only was Entertainment Studios prepared to wait until June 2017, but it backed up its commitment to 47 Meters Down with a promise of a 2,500-screen launch and major P&A spend (Godfrey says the company spent more than $30 million on the release).
Like any true thriller, it wasn’t exactly a smooth ride to get there. Godfrey admits that he had a “dramatic few days,” and the film’s foreign sales agent, Altitude, had to jump on the phones to convince the foreign buyers — which included eOne in the U.K. and Square One in Germany — to come on board and hold off on the film’s release.
“If you make an investment in 2013, 2014 to buy a movie, thinking you’re getting it in 2016, then are held back for another year, that can create massive problems for your internal cash flow and budgeting,” he admits. “So we’re very grateful.”
In another curious twist, the film experienced a dramatic name change followed by a swift reversal. When it was still with Dimension, at the last minute the title was switched to In the Deep, bizarrely the original name given to The Shallows. Actual review copies were sent out bearing this name. But when Entertainment Studios came on board, with a theatrical release plotted, it went back to 47 Meters Down (the actual depth of the shark-strewn sea floor the film’s main characters sink to).
A year on from the nail-biting late nights, Fyzz’s belief in the film seems fully justified. 47 Meters Down is now being considered one of the summer’s indie hits, with a $42 million domestic box office, a third-place opening in South Korea at $2.2 million and some of the biggest international markets yet to come (it launches in the U.K. on July 26). Looking back now, the decision to wait also benefited from some good fortune, with Mandy Moore receiving a sizeable career boost thanks to NBC’s acclaimed This Is Us.
“It’s a great story,” says Godfrey, who is now working on upcoming Fyzz productions including the Rosamund Pike, Joel Kinnaman and Clive Owen-starring Three Seconds, as well as Final Score, starring Dave Bautista and Pierce Brosnan, alongside its slate of investments, which he says will hit around $150 million this year (recent films include Wind River and Martin Scorsese’s Silence).
“We’re not pretending this is the best film ever made, but it’s a fun summer thrill ride. And everyone’s made money, everyone’s won. The conversation now starts about whether there’ll be another one.”
As to whether there will be a sequel to 47 Meters Down, Godfrey says: “It looks like we’re working toward it.”