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This story first appeared in the Oct. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Now that 2016: Obama’s America has grossed $32.9 million, more than any other political documentary except Michael Moore‘s Fahrenheit 9/11 ($119.2 million), conservative filmmakers are lining up to try to duplicate that success before the Nov. 6 election and beyond.
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In limited release now is Occupy Unmasked, a critical look at the Occupy Wall Street movement from writer-director Stephen K. Bannon, who last year made the pro-Sarah Palin documentary The Undefeated. Unmasked is distributed by Mark Cuban‘s Magnet Releasing but also is on DVD and VOD, so box-office prospects are limited. (Watch the trailer below.) Better bets are Atlas Shrugged: Part II and Hating Breitbart, both scheduled for release Oct. 12. The latter, in fact, is similar to 2016 in a few ways: Both are distributed by Rocky Mountain Pictures, and both used the services of Movie to Movement, a little-known nonprofit group that supports “films promoting life, love, beauty and freedom,” according to its founder, Jason Jones. 2016 (made for about $2.5 million) opened at a single theater in Houston on July 13, and Movie to Movement helped ensure it played to a packed house using its network of 1,200 “theater captains” who phoned, Facebook-ed and e-mailed Christians and conservatives. The film’s marketing company, MJM Entertainment, also was savvy about creating buzz. “I saw stories about 2016 all over TV and the Internet,” notes Jones.
Hating Breitbart, about the enemies conservative firebrand Andrew Breitbart made before his death in March, was previewed in August to an enthusiastic audience at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. “2016 revealed that there’s a huge audience for content with a counter narrative,” says Breitbart filmmaker Andrew Marcus. Runaway Slave, a documentary about black conservatives (also distributed by Rocky Mountain), opened in five markets July 27 and quickly disappeared, but because of the success of 2016 and the fervor surrounding the election, it is reopening this month in 15 to 20 markets.
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Atlas Shrugged: Part II could generate the greatest returns. It premiered Oct. 2 in Washington and screens Oct. 4 in Los Angeles for “influencers” — columnists, talk-radio hosts, etc. Part I of the film based on Ayn Rand‘s novel that promotes capitalism over collectivism opened strong in April 2011 but fizzled fast, ultimately earning only $4.6 million domestically. (Producer Harmon Kaslow blames limited marketing.) This time around, instead of spending $500,000 exclusively for newspaper ads, he’s putting $5 million into 800 TV ads and 1,500 radio commercials and will open the film on 850 screens, about 600 more than Part I. Recent plugs for the book by GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan can’t hurt awareness, either. Kaslow also is showing the movie to Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Larry Elder and John Stossel hoping they’ll recommend it on their shows, and he screened it for conservative groups like the Cato Institute and FreedomWorks. Kaslow says he’s taking specific cues from the recent hit: “2016 gave us the opportunity to identify the theaters with high attendance and target them for our film.”
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