Hopefully by now, our email blast has gone far and wide. I wanted to take a moment and explore this concept of box office math.
As Georgia explained in her letter (posted below), opening weekend box office is critical for independent films. It's critical for all films but the metrics of success are slightly different for a small film opening in limited release. Because limited release films are only out on a few screens at a time, the absolute box office number ($135,634,554 for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, for example) is irrelevant. The appropriate number is the per screen gross, calculated simply as the total box office gross divided by the number of screens shown. And weekend numbers are typically tabulated for Friday through Sunday.
Let's look at the per screen gross of some recent independent film releases. All numbers are from www.boxofficemojo.com.
LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE -- 7 screens -- $52,999 avg
HALF NELSON -- 2 screens -- $26,991 avg
QUINCEANERA -- 8 screens -- $11,925 avg
BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN -- 5 screens -- $109,485 avg
SAVING FACE -- 6 screens -- $12,517 avg
BETTER LUCK TOMORROW -- 13 screens -- $27,751 avg
NAPOLEON DYNAMITE -- 6 screens -- $19,444 avg
GARDEN STATE -- 9 screens -- $22,346 avg
In general, a per screen gross above $10,000 is considered a success. Above $15,000 is a big success. And above $20,000 is an incredible success that should go wide. Of course several other factors should be taken into account such as the total number of screens (reaching a high per screen gross over just one screen should be taken with a grain of salt) and what markets the film is opening in.
Now let's look at the potential numbers for RED DOORS. We are opening on two screens in New York City on September 8. The Angelika Film Center (capacity: 260) is screening our film 6 times a day and they charge $10.75 per ticket. The ImaginAsian Theater (capacity: 285) is also screening our film 6 times a day and charging $10 per ticket. A quick calculation yields a total possible gross of $101,610. The highest per screen gross for us would therefore be $50,805. Both theaters offer discounts to seniors and children so the total grosses would likely be lower.
Our goal is to break $10,000 per screen over opening weekend and short of Georgia, Mia, and I finding 2,000 friends to show up over the weekend, we will be very dependent on grassroots marketing and reviews.
The scary truth is that while critics' reviews of big-budget blockbuster films have almost no impact on box office performance (BO performance for these films is more correlated with advertising spend), reviews are absolutely essential for limited release independent films.
For example, HALF NELSON, a Sundance film starring Ryan Gosling that opened on 2 screens in New York City grossed $26,911 per screen over its opening weekend. It has an 89% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and, more importantly, got glowing reviews from The Village Voice and The New York Times - the two pillars of New York film criticism.
On the other hand, THE GROOMSMEN, a film by Ed Burns starring Burns and a recognizable cast including John Leguizamo, Brittany Murphy, and Jay Mohr opened on 3 screens and grossed $8,682 per screen over opening weekend. It has a 56% rating on Rotten Tomatoes classifying it as a "rotten" film. THE GROOMSMEN got a mediocre review from The New York Times and a scathing review from The Village Voice.
So the moral of this story is to go out and buy tickets for opening weekend. Your efforts will have much more impact than waiting until the second week of release.
Oh, and pray for a great review.