After press reports about “flop” on one-screen theatrical release, distributor says it still has hopes for release to be profitable.
After several articles in UK publications this weekend attacking the box-office returns for Metrodome’s theatrical launch of Motherhood, the distributor is trying to set the record straight. On Saturday, The Guardian ran an article (a full page in the print edition, link here) suggesting that the film - starring Uma Thurman - was one of the UK’s biggest box-office flops in history, and that it “should have been a red carpet event” with “audiences queueing round the block of the Apollo West End in Piccadilly Circus” after it opened on March 5.
But Metrodome is countering that it had planned a one-print theatrical release to support the bigger DVD launch (a common practice, especially when contractual obligations specify that a title have some sort of theatrical run). Certainly, the company is not boasting about the £88 takings for Motherhood’s opening weekend, but it does say there are a number of unfair accustations in The Guardian story.
Metrodome chairman Mark Webster said in a statement: “The cinema results were indeed soft, but there was no expectation from our side of customers ‘queuing around the block’ to see Motherhood. It is important at this stage to emphasise that our release of Motherhood in the UK was a multi-platform release. We wanted to offer customers the opportunity to watch the film on whichever platform they chose and, in this case, they chose to watch the film in other ways. We never expected our one-print theatrical result to be a commercial success. The result across the DVD and the VOD platforms, despite the lack of critical support, have been in line with our expectations. For example we can confirm that over 6,000 units were sold in the week of its first release and initial reports on the VOD element are encouraging. Our release plans for this film were significantly scaled back following the poor US result and we opted instead to try something different with a more inventive release strategy. We feel that in this economic climate we should be applauded for experimentation and not scalped for trying something new.”
“Despite what was reported over the weekend, Motherhood was an independent film released by an independent distributor. Like any commercial company, our ultimate agenda is to generate profit — we are confident that across all revenue streams Motherhood will be a profitable title for Metrodome Distribution.
“Finally there is no ‘bitter confrontation’ between Metrodome and Motherhood producer Jana Edelbaum. Jana was cold-called by a journalist and although she was aware of our multi-platform release strategy, she had not yet seen the results across the board. As such, the comments are out of context. We have since spoken to Jana who also agrees that the initial piece is misleading.”
Edelbaum also issued this statement today: “I was cold called by The Guardian and at no time asserted there was any bitter dispute between Metrodome and myself and explained instead that I needed to obtain additional information about their release to come up with an informed opinion. The San Francisco Chronicle stated about the film ‘Motherhood tells it like it is’… it is a pity that the Guardian does not subscribe to this practice.”
The Guardian story author, Amelia Hill, had her own rebuttal to the rebuttal. “They [Metrodome] are being misleading [about the queues quote]. I didn’t say they did have such an expectation. I said: ‘…the film’s producers presumably hoped that exclusivity would create a buzz around the movie. Though limiting the release would obviously limit takings, they must have hoped word of mouth could make it a slow-burning success. But the tactic backfired catastrophically. Instead of audiences queueing round the block of the Apollo West End in Piccadilly Circus, London, to see the star of Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, they stayed away in record-breaking numbers.’”
Hill continued: “Regarding the rest of their statement concerning multi-platforms, we included it all in the article. Metrodrome provided us with a statement and we directly quoted a substantial — and most certainly a representative — proportion of it in the piece.”
As for responding to Edelbaum’s updated statement, The Guardian’s Hill said: “My quotes from the producer show she said: ‘I am going to phone Metrodrome and find out exactly what happened. My guess is that something went terribly wrong with the marketing. Had the marketing been better, we would have seen a better response. Yes, I feel bitter but you have to have thick skin in this business. I’m going to find out exactly what happened. I’m going to talk to them.’”
Katherine Dieckmann’s film, backed by New York indie Killer Films, and made for a low budget of reportedly about $5m, made only about $93,000 during its US run via independent distributor Freestyle Releasing in October 2009 - at its widest, it was in 48 cinemas. Reviews of the film, a comedy-drama about busy moms, have been mostly dismal.
Several UK film experts and journalists had linked to the Guardian article and started a thread on Facebook pointing out issues with the story. The buzz about the film’s poor results has now been spreading across dozens of various publications in the UK and abroad.
Metrodome, in business for more than a decade, does a large DVD business — in recent years, the company has handled about 12 theatrical releases a year and 60 new titles straight to DVD. The company has sold more than 15m DVD units.