Having read quite a few mentions of the Booksmart film not performing up to snuff, or to expectations, and even discussion as to whether this augurs weakness for women-themed films, or women-helmed films, I wanted to look.
A Wide Release
Then I started to look at the release that was playing out for the comedy, and quickly came to my own conclusion that there seemed to be a disconnect between the movie’s most likely audience and the way it was booked and marketed. Why was a film that requires a core audience with educated and generally open-minded sensibilities, funny and even at times raunchy though it may be, released more like it was a teen horror movie? 2500+ opening screens? If it can’t perform under these conditions, then doom can only be skirted by prayer.
I have also seen some discussion that there are tendencies to move in this direction, away from indie platforming. This doesn’t yet appear to be an overall tendency, but, even if others are jumping off the bridge (as our mom’s always used to say) doesn’t mean it’s smart. Are we heading toward only wide or all-digital indie strategy? Can’t a theater audience have a chance to catch up with a picture anymore?
Serious Critical Acclaim
Critics seemed to love the film, with all the upper echelons giving it a 90 to 100 rating. But the release team must have let it all go to their heads, because critics speak to a very particular audience, not the entire available movie audience. Oh, and, by the way, there is a large swath of the movie-going public that likes to stick a thumb in the eyes of the critics. They are not the typical audience for these kinds of films, by the way. So, if the critics love it, the movie will not be for them, and if the critics hate it, some want to see it even more.
Smart movies are primarily for smart people, and critics are generally (not always) themselves, smart people. I mean, the word “smart” is in the title, and they aren’t trying to be snarky using that word.
Booksmart Is a Smart Movie
The story is that, when two girls, best friends and academic superstars, Molly and Amy, who have focused single-mindedly on their studies for four years, learn on the eve of high school graduation that the kids who partied while they worked, got into the same elite schools they did. What was all that for? Now, they have decided to cram everything else they missed in those four years, all into one night. Booksmart is rated R because it looks and sounds like real life!
Market and Release Smart
This film is rated R, so it is not for teenagers, though there are some, when they hear about it, who will aspire to attend. It’s for adults, and since when, if it wasn’t schmaltzy, was a film about booksmart people for people who are not educated, primarily urban, primarily upscale. This is not a creature feature. All of these items scream that the film would very likely have a smart audience, primarily made up of women, only partially because it is about women, and that they would of necessity be older than 17. This describes what we used to call a “Specialty Film,” or an arthouse film. Well, the arthouse audience is generally two thirds female, and it trends largely mature, and this audience generally goes out to the movies, not exactly on Friday or Saturday date nights, but the days and nights they can fit it into their schedules. Oh, one more thing, they often wait to see a movie after the first weekend, even often after the second or the third weekend. They are not in a teenage hurry. They need to be wooed, and allowed to find out more, and to fit it into their schedules.
So, Was Opening on 2500+ Screens a Smart Move?
In the right hands, a film like this might have found an audience growing and growing and growing, instead of watching it dwindle. Why didn’t it open on 50 or 200 screens and build on the critical acclaim and build its word of mouth? This film, if handled correctly, could have been a great little “Art House Plus” film.
Art-house audiences are already primarily women, are already adult, trend mature, and are a stable target for smart films. Expanding on that, we have other urbanites and near suburbanites who hanker for a wide perspective, different sensibilities, LGBTQ characters, and different looks at life. These audiences respond slower, attend in following weeks, and are loyal to films that please them. In fact, women especially want their friends to also see a film they enjoyed and to love the experience, too. That can’t happen opening weekend. They embrace topics that can be taboo or racy or wistful, even raunchy, and they are agnostic about sexual content in films. They want to see some life in front of them. So, why did the bookers and marketers spend so much money releasing this film like it was Lights Out or something?
Over-amped Release Costs Can Crush a Film’s Value
The truth is, every film type has a different arc of upswing and downtrend, and well-handled Art House Plus films are in careful, nurturing hands, managing the opening theaters, targeting the audience, teasing them out and allowing them to become familiar with it across time. Comedies go up fast, like rockets, and fall to earth the same, fast. But smart films do a slow windup, and then stick with their target audience over time, allowing them to get to it, and keeping a tight rein on the marketing spend so that the tickets you sell don’t just all go to paying off marketing spend. I wish Booksmart’s team had thought through this film’s release strategy better, and then, I suspect, there would be less carping, hand-wringing and worrying about what this film augurs.
- -$6,000,000 Budget
- -$20,000,000 at least Prints & Ads (2500+ screens)
- +$18,000,000 three weeks BO
- =$17,000,000 in the hole today
- Needing another nearly $40,000,000 million in BO to get out.
Oh well, exuberance! I wish I was saying, fantastic, discipline, and here come even more certain chances for women. Bravo on the film, I just wish the release had nudged it toward a rolling success, instead of bludgeoning it with exuberance.
Coda: When I read or hear that a new filmmaker has had their low-budget picture picked up at Sundance, or Toronto, or wherever, and they crow that the distributor promised to spend $20 million on marketing, I usually go “Uh-oh, there goes value out the window.”
Another Coda: We were down due to hacking for a bit, and happy to be back, we are offering a Thank You discount. You can use if for Filmmaker’s Financials or Producer’s Financials, limited time, limited number, so if it fits you, use it! Use it here: https://shop.filmprofit.com/
Onward and Upward!