By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood November 16, 2009 at 7:26AM
With a lack of available distributors to handle the spate of indie films seeking theatrical release, some filmmakers are taking matters into their own hands. Doc director Mary Mazzio went directly to a theater chain. Now her movie is playing in eight cities.
Mazzio directed the indie doc Ten9Eight: Shoot for the Moon, backed by the Templeton Foundation, about 35 inner city kids-turned-entrepreneurs competing for a winning business plan in South Chicago and Harlem. After negotiations with Sony Pictures Classics fell apart after six months, Mazzio was stymied. There was no more Paramount Vantage or ThinkFilm to turn to. "Half the players were gone," she says.
She knew that exhibitor AMC had new management on board: ex-Starbucks exec Gerry Lopez, CEO, and Village Roadshow veteran Bob Lenihan, programming president. She approached Lenihan, who asked to see the movie. He shocked her by calling back to make a deal for the AMC Select program, which fills at least one screen in about 80 theaters in the chain with specialty fare. AMC is stepping up its specialty programming with AMC Selects, which is similar to Landmark's Truly Indie.
[The Ten9Eight trailer is on the jump.]
AMC agreed to release the doc for one week in 15 theaters in eight markets, two in each city, one high-grossing and one neighborhood theatre. It turns out that AMC wants more programming for their African-American and Latino customers. "Mary shot the film in locations where AMC has a strong theater presence," says Lenihan. "23% of our customers are African-American, 21% are Latino."
Ten9Eight opened November 13 after a day of free educator screenings. Here's its Metacritic page.
Keep in mind that Mazzio isn't your everyday filmmaker. A one-time competitive Olympic rower and lawyer, she's capable of functioning as a self-distributor. She's a filmmaker willing and able to pay for prints and do the work of creating ad materials, a trailer and a website. She hired Zipline Entertainment to help publicize the picture, which will eventually air on Viacom's BET in January, accompanied by a Scholastic book tie-in. "I'm a control freak," says Mazzio. "Having that control to create all your own assets is a wonderful thing."
This is just the start of what Lopez and Lenihan want to do at AMC. They've imported Starbucks exec Nikkole Denson (who had launched the Akeelah and a Bee marketing campaign with Lionsgate) as v-p of specialty and alternative content to beef up the Selects program. "We want to put our stake in specialized film," says Lenihan. "We want to bring more diversity of titles to a more discerning, young clientele. We can bridge the gap to bring a talented filmmaker like Mary to people who want to see this movie. We want to cut as wide a swath as we can across as many groups as we can with the right content. There are no barriers to bringing fresh content to people. We're looking for other projects to bring directly to our clientele without distributors attached."
The NYT breaks down more indie numbers.