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The backers of the Sarah Palin documentary The Undefeated claimed victory as the film opened in 10 theaters over the weekend, but the numbers suggest only a so-so debut.
Undefeated grossed $60,000 to $75,000, meaning a per-screen average of $6,000 or $7,500, the measure by which limited openings are judged. A screen average below $10,000 is considered mediocre.
At the same time, Undefeated isn’t the usual release and may not play by the rules.
Distributor ARC Entertainment and Cinedigm Entertainment rushed the documentary into digital-only theaters and relied on social media to market the pic, versus a traditional media spend.
STORY: The Undefeated: Film Review
“We didn’t put a nickel of P&A into this and the distributor had the movie for only three weeks. To describe this as anything but a hit is inaccurate,” director-writer Stephen Bannon told The Hollywood Reporter on Sunday.
“We took out only one ad, which is what AMC required of us. We did a high-risk thing. I wanted to see how we could open on word-of-mouth and social media,” said Bannon.
Bannon also said the numbers are misleading, given the small theaters where Undefeated played.
“This is a documentary opening against Harry Potter on the toughest weekend of the year. We had small numbers but only in small theaters. In bigger markets, like Orange County, we’ll do $12,000 per screen,” Bannon said.
“One theater had, like, 95 seats. Most places upgraded us to a bigger screen because of demand. Where we had the capacity, we did more than $10,000 per screen,” he said.
Bannon also said audiences reacted much in the same way they did at the premiere in Pella, Iowa a few weeks ago: with standing ovations. He said he intends on putting video of the positive response online.
“The combination of passionate audience response, sustained standing ovations and in-theater Twittering convinces us that this is a special film that will have incredible word-of-mouth,” said Glenn Bracken Evans, co-founder of Victory Film Group, which financed the film with its partners.
ARC Entertainment and Cinedigm, which helped get the film into theaters, opened the film in Palin strongholds—Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Denver, Phoenix, Orlando, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Oklahoma City and Orange, Calif.
ARC said theaters in larger markets enjoyed per screen averages of nearly $10,000 on Saturday night. The theater in Phoenix played Undefeated on two screens at one point because of demand.
Bannon said details of a wider release will be announced Monday.
“We expect word-of-mouth to keep ticket sales strong and we will definitely expand the film to a wider national audience,” said ARC CEO Trevor Drinkwater.
Bannon also said independent filmmakers can learn something from the way Undefeated got a quick and inexpensive release that included efficiently marketing the movie to its target audience.
“Harry Potter is historic, and in our little way, we are too,” Bannon said. “We’re a template for independent film releases.”
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