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Exclusive: CodeBlack CEO Jeff Clanagan Talks Successful Release Strategy For "Woman Thou Art Loosed: On The 7th Day"

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by Tambay A. Obenson
April 16, 2012 9:53 AM
11 Comments
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Jeff Clanagan

Indeed it is a good time to be in the CodeBlack Entertainment business as AMCi (AMC's relatively new independent film release initiative) confirmed over the weekend that the black-owned and operated film production/distribution company run by Jeff Clanagan, holds the top two highest grossing films in AMCi program history: 1) Laugh At My Pain, which shocked the world when it was released last fall, making an impressive $7 million (grossing around 10 times its budget, making it one of the most profitable films of 2011); and 2) Woman Thou Art Loosed! On The 7th Day, which opened in limited release this weekend, on 102 screens in the USA, grossing just about $650,000; and, by the way, held the highest per screen average of all films in commercial theatrical release this past weekend (yes, even higher than The Hunger GamesThe Cabin In The Woods, and other top-grossing studio films).

We have here 2 black independent films that many of you who read this site may not have yet seen (and may never even see), but that have clearly successfully found their target audiences via a robust, and relatively inexpensive digital marketing strategy that, as Clanagan said in our brief conversation over the phone yesterday, is all part of an "alternate distribution model" he's bulding - one that he's certainly excited about, given the roll his company has been on thus far in recent months.

"We’re very excited about the model we’re building... The highest grossing weekend since AMC started the AMCi program; from that standpoint, it’s a success for us, and also for AMC… and shows that it can work for indie filmmakers and indie films… and that the marketing can work... I’m very committed to the AMCi program, and we’re going to grow that relationship," Clanagan said, adding that his intent is to "fill a void" in a space that no other company is really dominating at the moment - releasing black indies on 100 to 300+ screens nationwide (Laugh At My Pain's widest release was on 287 screens).

I asked for a case-study - specifically the strategy implemented for the company's current release, Woman Thou Art Loosed!: On The 7th Day, and Mr Clanagan (who shared that his expectations for the film's opening box office take were surpassed - $650,000 versus the $500,000+ he projected), stated that the plan was to open the film on 75 to 100 screens in the top 17 or 18 major markets, targetting high-grossing screens.

"The reasons we take that approach is because our model is a very aggressive targeted online marketing strategy," he said, adding, "we consult with a lot of celebrities, or what I like to call our network of influences," or N.O.I. - an N.O.I. that collectively reaches, by his estimates, some 30 million fans/followers on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, emphasizing that they’re all "pretty active; so at any time I could simply press a button, and through that, target our consumers in a much more efficient way that a studio could not so readily; we can reach the consumer and get immediate feedback better than most studios can."

And still further, Clanagan touted the company's "extensive email lists," sending out timed email blasts, as all part of his relatively inexpensive, really grassroots digital strategy: "putting all that together, it enables us to get the word out about our movies in a different, and efficient manner than the traditional studio model," he added.

And despite negative critical reactions to the film (scoring a 40% on review aggregator site RottenTomatoes.com), On The 7th Day's strong opening demonstrates how, we could say, critic-proof the film is, emphasizing the disconnect that exists between critics and audiences; how ultimately ineffective critics are in instances like this where an effective, targeted marketing campaign trumps negative press.

"The audience is going to drive the word of mouth, not the critics; we rely on feedback from the consumer; we rely on social media, and engage them on an ongoing basis; we survey our audiences and we care about what they say, not what the critics are saying," said Clanagan; and when I asked whether the film had legs, going into this coming weekend and the next, he added confidently, "Yes - purely based on the fact that we’re seeing very favorable exit responses. And we’re getting a lot of interest from markets we’re not yet in, like Birmingham, Alabama for example."

Opting to hold steady the number of screens On The 7th Day will be in release this weekend (given the opening of Screen Gems' Think Like A Man, which will likely be competing for the same audience), Clanagan does intend to expand the film to more theaters the following weekend.

And thanks to the success of that marketing campaign (as seen in box office returns for the company's aforementioned two recent releases), Clanagan and CodeBlack are perplexing Hollywood studios who are certainly watching the company's success with interest, given the anomaly that is the *black audience* from the POV of (mostly white) studio execs; but Clanagan, while flattered and open to opportunities, isn't interested in any agreements that require that he relinquish control.

"After Kevin Hart [Laugh At My Pain], every studio in town called me… I’m not opposed to it, but I’m trying to build an alternative model… I want to still be able to do what I want to do… But yes, the studios do call, and I expect to get a bunch of calls tomorrow, trying to figure out how we’re able to do it," he stated, further elaborating on studio limitations, "They have to make a commitment and build an infrastructure; Hiring black executives here and there makes little difference because those black executives don’t really have enough power; it looks good on paper. But it'll require a much more committed effort."

And he's obviously not clinging to any attention he says he'll likely receive this week, suggesting how fickle these studio interests are, "I’ll have their attention all this week, and maybe next week, but after that, nothing; They’re not in the 'black film' business, because studio models are about tentpole movies, and international; so they’re not jumping into our business."

And it's worth noting at this juncture that the audience for On The 7th Day, by Clanagan's estimates, was probably 99% African American, and that's likely because, "we’re not doing any marketing towards the cross-over, because we feel we can be successful with our core audience," Jeff said.

And successful with that core audience he's certainly been thus far, with Laugh At My Pain and now off to a strong start with On The 7th Day.

So with all that steam behind him, what's next? Two more feature projects are on the horizon Clanagan shared, although he couldn't reveal anything further about them, as deals for each aren't completed yet.

And finally, regarding the home video (VOD/DVD) release of Woman Thou Art Loosed: On The 7th Day, he expects an August or September date. 

To find out if the movie is playing in your city, click HERE.

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11 Comments

  • Screen Nation | April 18, 2012 5:05 PMReply

    Good job Jeff, this is currently the very best way forward for 'niche product' distribution. We love Code Black, always have.

  • CareyCarey | April 17, 2012 5:13 AMReply

    As more people willingly and openly embrace CodeBlack, I hope they realize they are in essence championing a miniture Tyler Perry. However, in my way of thinking there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But I am sure many would scoff at the notion of CodeBlack's Jeff Clanagan and Tyler Perry being brothers of the same mother, but check the books. Well... if you will... look at it like this... one is Geechie Dan Beauford and the other is Silky Slim, they both are so-called black gansters who are trying to get that suitcase full of black folks money. Take a look at little brother's "Rap Sheet". Least Of These (2008) SYNOPSIS: Father Andre James (Isaiah Washington) returns to his former Catholic school to replace a priest who mysteriously disappeared. His journey forces him to confront some disturbing secrets about the school and his own dark past. "The Walk" (2004/2005DVD) The Walk is a contemporary Urban Christian feature film chronicling a turbulent time in the life of Sydney, a frustrated young woman struggling with numerous tumultuous relationships. Guided by a faithful Youth Minister she embarks on a personal journey through shrouded truths as she seeks to reconcile her relationship with Jesus Christ. God's Waiting List (2006). Preaching To The Choir, 2006. Book Of Love(2005): Book of Love: The Definitive Reason Why Men Are Dogs delivers a humorous look at the tribulations of unrequited love and sour relationships. Starring Robin Given and Loretta Devine. "Lowriding in AZTian" (2006). Boss'n Up (2005). Katt Williams: Internet Dating 2008 starring Clifton Powell, Katt Williams and Master P. "Pimp Chronicles" (2006) . Laugh At My Pain (2011) $7 million. Woman Thou Art Loosed! On The 7th Day, 102 screens in the USA, grossing just about $650,000. NOW.... IN WALKS... **drum roll** CodeBlack's big brother, MR. TYLER PERRY 2005! Perry received a $5.5 million budget to fund his first movie, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, which went on to gross $50.6 million domestically. On its opening weekend, February 24–26, 2006, Perry's film version of Madea's Family Reunion opened at Number 1 at the box office with $30.3 million. The film eventually grossed $65 million. Daddy's Little Girls, starred Gabrielle Union and Idris Elba 2007. It grossed over $31 million. Why Did I Get Married? 2007... $21.4 million first weekend. Meet the Browns opened at "Number 2" with a $20,000,000 weekend gross. The Family That Preys 2008, grossed over $37.1 million. Sooooo, as I was saying, same strokes-same folks, two brothers from the same mother. Hey, I wish Tyler was my big brother, I'd love to get his hand-me-downs. Who wouldn't want to sit in the catbird's seat and fly under the radar of the black "side-eye". Btw, I wonder if Jeff ever calls his older, richer big brother to thank him for that alternate distribution model?

  • WOW | April 17, 2012 10:20 AM

    LMAO @ Geechie Dan Beauford and the other is Silky Slim. Carey- you made me laugh and pause this time. And I had to look twice because Jeff Clanagan looks like he could actually be Tyler's young brother.

  • CareyCarey | April 17, 2012 5:45 AM

    BTW, I've seen every single one of the above mentioned films, and my lady and I enjoyed the experience. On some occasions she enjoyed them more than me but, nevertheless, as I've said before, I've come to believe that a journey shared with another, is more deeply moving an experience than a journey taken alone, so it's all good! It's entertainment... I'll save a seat for y'all at the movies.

  • CRITICAL ACCLAIM | April 16, 2012 7:12 PMReply

    Good on ya to get this interview right on the heels of the weekend success. I'd like to see more business interviews like this. These first hand accounts on current events is insanely interesting to some of us.

  • Niema Perkins | April 16, 2012 6:38 PMReply

    I totally agree with Carey. I'm so glad that CodeBlack is doing business the way they're doing it. I was so pleasnatly surprised, to see the full audience turn out when I went to see On the Seventh Day on Friday.. It was only at one theater her in Milwaukee, playing on one screen. There was no television advertising so, I was wondering how so many people knew about the movie. Until I read Jeff's article on how he does his advertisement through social media. Excellent strategy. I love it and I loved the movie. I loved the freshness of the movie. I loved the suspense. I loved how it showed AA in other facets of the culture. Common global issues (a missing child) (scared parents) (adults dealing with an unhealed pass) (productive AA) (misperceptions) (change)....Sharon Leal, Blair, and Pam are awesome actors. They shined. Please keep giving us what you're giving us. CodeBlack.....Thank you...Neema Barnett, and TD Jakes....

  • CareyCarey | April 16, 2012 3:31 PMReply

    CodeBlack is down for the money and it's CEO Mr. Jeff Clanagan is a wise businessman! Let me go back to the begining. I was researching Bernie Mac's rise to fame. One thing was glarringly obvious... he knew his addience and thus plied his craft... fertilized his seed right in the heart of his people. His vernacular wasn't the King's English and he was a very dark skinned African American, so in his earliest years he knew Hollywood was not the place to be. Hollywood eventually came calling but he didn't change his stroke nor did he forget where he came from. Let me continue... yesterday I saw a film titled "Rain (2008)". Some of the supporting cast needed a little work, but the stars, cinematography and production design shined. I enjoyed it. I believe it's budget was around 1 Million. But here's what I wanted to get to: An article on IndieWire. Illusions, "Fragrance", and "Rain": Creating a New Black Cinema at UCLA... "If there was one running theme through the night's selections, it was inclusion, and where black people in fit into discourses of citizenship and belonging. I bring it back to Mignon’s statement in Illusions: "People make films about themselves." This has been the case with cinema since its inception, and the presence of class, power, and race has played a major factor in the propagation of certain films as representative for all, when in fact they ARE NOT. In the work of LA Rebellion filmmakers, we understand that cinema can be self-reflexive, a sort of renewal giving rise to distinct voices that shift the position of black narratives and their importance. Let's continue to make films about ourselves" BY NIJLA MUMIN | NOVEMBER 14, 2011 12:25 PM. Having read that article and Bernie Mac rise to fame, I thought of CodeBlack's formula for "success". It's obvious that they give their core audience what they want, which by and large has little to do with the issues of "relevance" , "good" vs quaily vs entertainment... they do it all! Count the ways. NINE faith based films, including some that went straight to DVD, like Mama I want to Sing, 3 Ways To Get a Husband, Father Of Lies and one starring Isaiah Washington. And theater releases include Preaching To The Choir and Mooz-lum. They don't shy away from the dreaded "oh look at how they make us look" comedies either. Well, we've read about the success of Kevin Hart, but their lineup includes films by Katt Williams, Jamie Fox live, Snoop Dogg, Deray Davis and Shaq. They carry one by Aries Spears of Mad TV. He's on his cover in black face. They also distributed Legacy, Shawdowboxer, My Brother, Politics of Love and Dirty Laundry. In short, CodeBlack has paid their dues and they know what works (what makes money). They stay away from politics and thus gives the people (their people) what they are willing to pay for. Hey, if it don't make money, it don't make sense, right?

  • Laura | April 16, 2012 3:17 PMReply

    I'm glad to hear that things are clicking for CodeBlack. Do you think you can do a podcast with Jeff Clangan?

  • Donald Randell | April 16, 2012 1:59 PMReply

    This is great for independents film makers, like myself who's doing a Rudy Ray Moore Documentary movie!

  • Miles Maker | April 16, 2012 1:03 PMReply

    Kudos to the CodeBlack team and its digital outreach strategy! Although this sounds like a purely niche targeting model to a very specific core audience, Clanagan's NOI touts an incidental cross-over effect nonetheless. There's some inherent cross-pollination through concentric spheres of influence his tastemakers command (via cadres of diverse 'listeners.') so it would be beneficial to see the exit numbers and discover if ticket sales were indeed 99% African American as Clanagan estimates, or if word of mouth extended beyond the core through conversation.

  • Donella | April 16, 2012 12:14 PMReply

    Clanagan really seems to have his head on straight. I admire that. I had a feeling this movie would do well and would have legs. I'll look forward to the wide release. The financial power of the Black Christian audience should never be underestimated (even though it is). That's leaving money on the table and only arrogant fools do that. Very happy for the producers of The 7th Day.

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