Well, this is annoying. If you followed the little controversy that broke earlier this week over the Fresno Filmworks August screening, you’ll recall that the distributor behind the movie “Bernie” forced Filmworks to pull the film from its schedule. The reason? The film opened at Regal’s Manchester theater last Friday, beating out today’s scheduled Filmworks screening, even though Filmworks had long had the film on its schedule.
After the Friday opening at Manchester, the folks at Filmworks gritted their teeth and decided they’d show “Bernie” anyway. But on Tuesday, Millennium Entertainment told Filmworks it couldn’t show “Bernie” in any form. The reason? The Filmworks screening would compete with Manchester for “Bernie” customers. Filmworks switched gears and announced it would play the acclaimed Japanese family drama “I Wish.”
Now comes the really silly part. After all of this, it turns out Regal pulled “Bernie” out of its Manchester theater after just a week. The last screening was Thursday night. So the movie isn’t playing anywhere today. And if Filmworks had been allowed to go ahead with its original plan, Millennium would have made some extra bucks.
The transaction involving “Bernie” was a little complicated because Filmworks was using a distributor named Swank Motion Pictures specializing in the “non-theatrical market” (schools and colleges, museums, film societies, etc.). Filmworks had hoped to get a 35mm print of the film but was willing to use a Blu-ray disc for the screening. Swank had assured Filmworks there’d be no problem with the digital Blu-ray rights.
I checked in with Filmworks president John Moses for an update. He writes:
On Tuesday, Millennium said that they had no 35mm print for our Friday screening and that they would not approve our use of a digital version, even though their agent at Swank Motion Pictures had told us weeks before that a Blu-ray disc would be our back up if a print was not available for our August 10 playdate.
On Wednesday, however, Swank contacted me again to say that now Millennium had a print for us and would get it to the Tower Theatre in time. It seems pretty obvious to me that the print that was now available would be coming from the Regal theaters at Manchester, and that Millennium was not aware on Tuesday that Manchester would be limiting the film to just a one-week run … By the time Millennium realized that the Regal run was ending, we had already entered into a rental agreement with the distributor of “I Wish.”
I asked Moses if Millennium’s bumbling had cost the distributor money.
Millennium’s circuit-dealing with Regal has definitely lost them income for the film. For all our films (except those at festival time), we pay a minimum fee vs. a percentage of the gross, anywhere from 35% to 50%. Given the continued interest in the film from our patrons, I believe we would have had a sizable take with Friday’s screenings.
Film distribution is a rough-and-tumble business, with both theater chains and studios trying to maximize profits, and booking decisions are often made quickly. And by choosing to program an extremely popular indie film, Filmworks was indeed taking a risk that “Bernie” could drop into a commercial theater before playing at the Tower.
But Millennium’s hard-ball tactics obviously misfired. It got greedy, and then it got burned.
The annoying part for us at The Bee is that some small movie studios/distributors have such little regard for the Fresno market that they’ll drop in films with absolutely no advertising or advance notice to the media — and then use the lousy box-office receipts for such films as a reason not to open other such films here. In this case, however, Millennium went on to actively diss the city’s biggest and most enthusiastic group of art-film lovers. It’s just plain stupid.
In the meantime, Moses is excited about tonight’s screening of “I Wish.” (It plays at 5:30 and 8:30 p.m.) He says: “For those that might think the Japanese drama we chose is of lesser quality than ‘Bernie’ or lesser than any of our selections, I suggest that they take a quick look at metacritic.com or rottentomatoes.com. The acclaim for ‘I Wish’ is near universal.”