The distributor for “Bernie” is making Fresno Filmworks pull its Friday scheduled screenings of the film. The reason? The indie film starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey opened last Friday at Regal’s Manchester theater. It slipped in with no advance notice after The Bee’s deadline for the Friday 7 section, which was printed with no review or indication the film had opened.
This occasionally happens in the Fresno market: a distributor will make a late decision to open a film on Friday without telling the media about it — either because it’s unorganized or simply doesn’t care. Most of the time the distributor doesn’t buy any print or TV advertising. And because Regal doesn’t advertise showtimes in The Bee anymore, the only way that audience members know it’s opening is through a random encounter with Fandango. (And then those same distributors often turn around and complain that people in the Fresno market don’t go to smaller films.)
Filmworks president John Moses says that “our non-theatrical venue apparently threatens the commercial run.”
A substitute film will be screened: the new Japanese release “I Wish.”
I caught up with Moses to ask a few questions about the situation.
Question: Were you surprised when “Bernie” opened here last Friday?
“Bernie,” with such star power, is a good fit for the commercial theaters, but I was still surprised that it opened the week before our playdate. When no review ran in last week’s “7,” I surmised that it had slipped in without advance notice to you, too. So far as our board is aware, no trailers ever played for the film, which is why we risked booking a film with such prominent actors.
How long ago did you book “Bernie”? Were you using a different distributor than the one handling the Regal booking?
I booked the film at the end of June with the same distributor that handles many of the classics we are scheduling for our Sunday matinees, Swank Motion Pictures. Swank specializes in the “non-theatrical” market — schools and colleges, museums, film societies, etc. I usually book directly with distributors, but occasionally use Swank, especially when the film is distributed by a company we are not likely to use again — in the case of “Bernie,” Millennium Entertainment.
Swank functions as middleman, sending in requests to the original distributor; when the requests involve 35mm prints, the process can take several weeks. I have been waiting since June for confirmation that a 35mm print would be available, but told repeatedly that the booking for a Blu-ray back-up was secure. While we are trying to continue as a 35mm exhibitor for as long as we are able, we do occasionally screen in digital formats (digi-beta, HD CAM, and Blu-ray). The interest in “Bernie” was sufficient to warrant going Blu-ray if we needed to.
Has Filmworks ever had to pull a film before because of this kind of situation?
We have changed films a few times in the ten years I’ve been program director. The most recent change happened with “A Dangerous Method,” which played to small audiences at Manchester. As in that case, we usually have 4-5 weeks warning that a booking needs to be changed. So there’s sufficient time to alter marketing materials. We make programming changes because Filmworks’ mission is to add to the cultural life of the community, and we can’t do that if we repeat what the commercial theaters are showing.
When did you find out you wouldn’t be able to screen “Bernie”?
The “Bernie” situation is unique for us. When the film opened at Regal just one week before our playdate, we gritted our teeth and stuck to the booking. Our audiences are loyal, so we expected them to wait for our screenings. And we wanted to keep our promise to bring the film to them at the Tower Theatre. Even more unique was what happened this morning. Just four days before our scheduled screening, we were told we would not receive the film in any format. We could have it after its “theatrical” run at Regal, but not this Friday.
Can you give a brief pitch for “I Wish”?
I’m personally very pleased that we are able to screen “I Wish” instead. It was originally our 2nd choice for the August date, and this would be the last opportunity to show it before it goes to the home market. I am also very pleased that Magnolia Pictures, the small independent distributor that handles the Oscar Shorts programs and next month’s film, “Take This Waltz,” was willing to work with us on such short notice. Beyond that, “I Wish” truly enriches the cultural life of Fresno: “I Wish” (the original Japanese title means “miracle”) is a sweet, humane film about childhood, from a perspective given very little attention in this country’s multiplexes. The director, Hirokazu Kore-eda, so little known in this country, has produced many internationally-acclaimed films, from “Maborosi” in 1995 to “Still Walking” in 2008. I think our audiences will truly enjoy this warm film and the performances from its young cast.