Movie theatre attendees are a curious breed. They spend their hard earned money to support the movie industry each weekend. They flock to crowded box office lines, standing for 20 minutes only to find out their first choice film is sold out.
They sometimes spend more than $30 at the concession stand for two buckets of buttery popcorn, two hot dogs, a tray of nachos and a small diet coke.
Lately, they have been supporting such “groundbreaking” films as Jeepers Creepers 2 and Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, making them No. 1 in the United States. Fortunately, more and more viewers are straying away from the blockbuster category and experiencing something other than mainstream cinema. Starting with the phenomenon of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, viewers have spent more time searching for independent releases, art films and documentaries.
Word-of-mouth has been the main promotional vehicle for independent movies since the beginning of the Hollywood monopoly. But lately, due to the popularity of the Internet with many movie information sites available, word-of-mouth is more effective than it has ever been.
This summer saw the re-release of several movies (such as Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and 28 Days Later) because the movie companies added new scenes or alternate endings. Also re-released was the Brit hit Bend it Like Beckham. The film got rave reviews when it first came out in March but failed to draw the paying public. Then after several months of bad grosses, it was re-released the first weekend of August and grossed five times what it did the previous weekend.
That may have been a marketing buzz, but documentaries such as Bowling for Columbine and Spellbound got their publicity almost solely through word-of-mouth.
Columbine, Michael Moore’s attack at the gun-loving American culture, and Spellbound, a story of eight kids competing in the National Spelling Bee, gained recognition through the buzz created not just by critics, but also by loyal fans.
The Internet contributes greatly to the creation of that buzz. With online message boards allowing anyone to express his or her views online and make them accessible to the whole world, people have an easier way of obtaining information about small budget or independent films.
Now, one of the best independent films is slowly gaining its well-deserved popularity. American Splendor, a film about the author of the “American Splendor” comic books, Harvey Pekar, opened at only 260 theaters nationwide. Its chances of extending its theater run are greatly inhibited by an unwelcoming, or rather unaware, audience.
But Tampa residents can consider themselves lucky.
It is easy to find good independent films in the Bay Area, one of the top 20-largest movie markets in the nation. With two art houses open downtown (Tampa Theatre and Channelside Cinemas) and another one on the way (Madstone Theatre in Hyde Park), independent releases are as easy to find here as anywhere outside of Los Angeles and New York.
Unfortunately, the only way these theaters will continue to thrive is if the buzz continues to form around these literally unheard of movies.
And they need as much free publicity as they can get.
Olga Robak is scene’s Entertainment Editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.