Natl Film Title Weekend Gross %B.O. Theatrs Rank LDS/Mormon Filmmaker/Star Total Gross Chnge $/Thtr Days --- --------------------------- ----------- ----- ------- ---- 6 Home on the Range 8,105,171 -42% 3,058 10 Roseanne Barr (actress) 27,418,973 $2,650 (1st billed star) 32 Bugs! 125,745 +1% 23 395 stars Papilio, 6,527,588 $5,467 a Great Mormon butterfly 35 The United States of Leland 117,654 +143% 90 10 Ryan Gosling (actor) 189,532 $1,307 (2nd billed star) 57 Latter Days 39,286 -38% 17 73 C. Jay Cox (writer/director) 620,158 $2,310 LDS main characters 74 The Best Two Years 16,214 -10% 7 52 Scott S. Anderson 609,060 $2,316 (writer/producer/director) Michael Flynn (producer) Fred C. Danneman (executive producer) Gordon Lonsdale (cinematographer) Wynn Hougaard (editor) Michael McLean (songwriter, music supervisor) Dave Sapp (line producer/1st A.D./unit production manager) Darin Anderson (production manager) Michael L. McDonough (sound editor) Rebecca Nibley (costume designer) Actors: K.C. Clyde, Kirby Heyborne, David Nibley, Cameron Hopkin, Scott Christopher, Michael Flynn 79 The Young Black Stallion 12,960 -34% 18 110 Reed Smoot (cinematographer) 6,238,740 $720 86 Galapagos 7,713 3 1634 Reed Smoot (cinematographer) 14,431,623 $2,571 97 The Book of Mormon Movie Vol. 1 4,101 +158% 3 206 Gary Rogers 1,581,093 $1,367 (writer/producer/director) Craig Clyde (screenplay) David Hales (co-producer, editor) Ira Baker (editor) Robert C. Bowden (composer) Actors: Bryce Chamberlain, Mark Gollaher, Jan Broberg Felt, Cragun Foulger, Jacque Gray, Kirby Heyborne, Michael Flynn 127 China: The Panda Adventure 194 2 991 Reed Smoot (cinematographer) 3,687,153 $97
But that's not all. Some of you have noticed how spartan our box office reports have gotten over the past few months - basically numbers and nothing else. The fault is Thomas's for abandoning Preston (temporarily) and making it just plain impossible to include our weekly digest of news items with the box office report since he had been the one who would typically compile the digest from the week's mailings sent out to our regular list. The reason, of course, was that Thomas was studying for his comprehensive exams for a Ph.D. in music from UCLA, which he has now passed - hooray! - and although he still must complete his dissertation sometime in the next seven years and he is also looking for a tenure-track university position, Thomas can now resume his regular duties with LDSfilm.com (not to mention that he once again has time to devote to scoring films of course). Yes, there IS now a doctor in the Baggaley house, and he'd be glad to assist you, as long as the operation you need is something along the lines of a dominant seventh resolution to tonic.
So - to sum up - we're back. We're excited. And we're ready to bring you the latest in LDS film.
SO WHERE WERE WE? - The last time we included this digest with our box office report (the report for November 7, 2004), Sister Jodee Stott had just been named as one of the final four competitors on the Today Show's version of American Idol, the Elizabeth Smart made-for-TV movie had trounced the Jessica Lynch made-for-TV movie in a head-to-head ratings battle, "The Legend of Johnny Lingo" had just had a surprisingly strong week in the theaters, "The Book of Mormon Movie" was cautiously approaching the $1 million mark and One South Studios had just released its own Book of Mormon-based live-action film on DVD, a musical titled "I Will Go and Do." Now we know how the grizzly bears must feel. You go into hibernation for a just a few months and the whole neighborhood changes.
Since then, THREE LDS Cinema feature films have opened in theaters, an independently released movie about Christ has reached the #8 spot on the all-time box office list (and is still climbing), the Book of Mormon Movie has passed $1.5 million and in many ways, the entire outlook for LDS cinema has shifted (although some of the numbers indicate that this shift is not necessarily in the optimistic direction).
WHAT HAPPENED? - The numbers to date for Andrew Black's "Pride and Prejudice" and the latest Halestorm production "The Home Teachers" have been, well, surprisingly dismal. While both films have outperformed films like "Handcart," "Out of Step," and "The Work and the Story" that basically had no advertising budget to work with, that's about where the good news ends. Last week, after 18 weeks in theaters, "Pride and Prejudice" had grossed approximately $320,000, roughly half of what "Charly" grossed in that same period of time, and after 13 weeks, "The Home Teachers" had not yet reached the $200,000 mark - a far cry from the $900,000 and $580,000 that "The R.M." and "The Singles Ward" had grossed at the same point in their respective runs. This kind of falloff wasn't supposed to happen - falloff perhaps, but nothing so dramatic. These aren't films being distributed out of a garage, like "Handcart" (and by the way, Kels Goodman's efforts in that regard are appearing more and more amazing by the day). Excel Entertainment and Halestone, the distributors of "P & P" and "H T" have been able to put LDS audiences in the theaters before - at least in greater numbers than are showing up now. Such poor performance may have some people ready to jump off the LDS Cinema bandwagon, feeling that the wheels are about ready to come off.
To what do we attribute this falloff? Well, we're not entirely in a position to say. Neither of us has seen "The Home Teachers" yet, and Thomas has only seen a rough pre-release version of "Pride and Prejudice" - we've been in hibernation, remember? (Thomas has been studying for his tests and Preston lives in Dallas and has to wait for the films to get there before he can see them.) But we do have some possible ideas to discuss.
1. Could it be that these films just aren't that good? Without seeing these films ourselves, we can't really form our own opinions, but we can look at critical response as one method of measuring the quality of the films, recognizing that in many cases, what an audience considers a good film is quite different from what a critic does. In this case, critical response does seem to indicate that "The Home Teachers" is of lesser quality than previous Halestorm releases - at least the critics seem to think so, consistently rating it lower than both "The Singles Ward" and "The R.M." However, the case with "Pride and Prejudice" is a different matter. When it was released, "Pride and Prejudice" received the best critical response of any LDS Cinema comedy up to that point and from the comments we have read, it seems that this film manages to deal with many of the issues that critics and some audience members have had with LDS Cinema films in the past.
2. Is there something wrong with the way the films are being marketed? This seems unlikely - or rather, since Excel and HaleStone have had some success marketing other films in the past, it seems likely that unless they have radically changed their marketing approach, their marketing strategy should be pretty close to as effective as it was before. Of course, a given strategy will be more effective with some films than with others, but in general, you would not normally expect such a large dropoff due to ineffective marketing when similar marketing strategies have worked better on other films in the past. (That is not to say that even the past marketing strategies were as effective as they could have been. I think most in the industry will agree that there is still a lot to learn about how to reach the LDS audience. All we are saying is that it is unlikely that this dropoff should be attributed to flawed marketing strategies.)
3. Has interest in LDS Cinema itself dropped off so much? Now that LDS Cinema has lost its newness, is this what we can expect from LDS Cinema films in the future? Our answer to this dreaded question is to point to the box office performance of "The Best Two Years," which has performed comparably to "The R.M." eight weeks into its theatrical run. "The Best Two Years" is generally considered a better film than "The R.M." - it has received the best reviews of ANY LDS Cinema film to date - so perhaps this indicates that the interest HAS slipped a little bit, as is to be expected as more and more LDS-themed films are released and the novelty wears off. LDS filmmakers need to shift their paradigm to realize that their films are coming more and more into direct competition with all of the other recreational choices that potential audience members can make. At first, "God's Army" and the early LDS cinema films were considered "can't miss" opportunities because of the rarity of films made about LDS characters by LDS filmmakers, but as that rarity disappears so does the "can't miss it" attitude and families begin to decide to catch those less intriguing films on video if at all. As a result, LDS filmmakers must find new ways to recreate that "can't miss it" attitude around their films and do so in a way that will bring in enough of an audience to offset any of the costs involved. We'll breach that subject further another day.
Still, after that little aside, the other side of the "Best Two Years" coin is that it does show that interest in a quality LDS Cinema film has not dipped so much as to account entirely for the poor performance of "The Home Teachers" and "Pride and Prejudice." While "The Best Two Years" may have performed better in the box office a couple years ago, it is not likely that it would have done so much better as to indicate that the gradually decreasing interest in LDS film alone would be responsible for this dropoff.
4. Could it be that both of these films simply do not fit the market - that they are just not the kind of films that LDS market audiences are looking for? We think there is some potential in this question. It now seems apparent that one of the marketing successes within the church of prior LDS Cinema films was the ability to differentiate them from Hollywood productions. "Hollywood-quality production with LDS values" seems to be an effective rallying cry of LDS Cinema, and in fact, members seem willing to settle for less than Hollywood quality production, as long as they see the film relating well to their values and lifestyle. As long as the films are perceived as being truly "LDS" and not too "Hollywood" there will always be some within the church who are interested in seeing them. The challenge has always been to try and find a way to make a film seem mainstream enough to attract a crossover audience without losing the perception of unique LDS-ness among the film's original core audience. Again, we would be in a better position to judge this aspect of "The Home Teachers" and "Pride and Prejudice" if we had actually seen these pictures, but from the little we have observed about the films and some of the comments we have heard, it seems to us that both of these films might be perceived as having tipped too far to the mainstream side (especially "Pride and Prejudice") and as a result, have lost a large portion of the core audience. Contrast this with "The Best Two Years" which plays solidly to its core audience, and although it may not be able to attract that elusive crossover audience (but NO LDS Cinema film since perhaps "God's Army" or "The Other Side of Heaven" has been able to do this), it has performed near what have become the expectations for a quality LDS Cinema film.
NOTES OF OTHER THINGS THAT HAVE OCCURRED SINCE OUR LAST DIGEST - "Saints and Soldiers" the long-awaited (and still-awaited) World War II film from Ryan Little received an R rating, causing a minor uproar among those who already have strong opinions about the MPAA rating system. After the film was reedited (one source was quoted as saying a few seconds), it was resubmitted to the MPAA and received a PG-13 rating. In related news, "The Book of Mormon Movie, Volume 1: The Journey" has been reedited for its DVD release and received a PG rating. It carried a PG-13 rating for its theatrical release. Meanwhile, there is apparently no truth to the rumors that Mel Gibson is considering reediting "The Passion of the Christ" in pursuit of that oh-so-elusive G rating before that film is released on DVD as well.
THE NEXT MORMON "IDOL" - We've also been keeping an eye on returned missionary and BYU-Idaho student Jon Peter Lewis who is the latest LDS contestant on "American Idol" - following in the footsteps of last year's Carmen Rasmussen. This week the competition show has been moved to Wednesday and the results show will be on Thursday. Check it out, or we'll be sure to keep you posted on how things turn out.
VARIETY LISTS "BEST TWO YEARS" AS A TOP LIMITED RELEASE FILM - This week's Variety (the key entertainment industry publication) on page 15 mentions LDS Cinema hit "The Best Two Years" as one of the Top Limited Releases of 2004, coming in currently at #7.
A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME - LDSfilm.com has learned that the film formerly known as "Baptists at Our Barbecue" and then retitled "Eat, Drink and Get Married" has once again been retitled and will be released under its original title "Baptists at Our Barbecue." The film, which will be the feature film directing debut of super-talented Austrian filmmaker Christian Vuissa ("Roots and Wings", "Unfolding") and stars Dan Merkley ("The Work and the Story") and LDS superstar Heather Beers ("Charly") is scheduled to hit theaters this fall. Still no reaction from the Methodists about being left out of the party.
"CHRISTIANITY TODAY" NOTES "THE BEST TWO YEARS" - We find the magazine Christianity Today is often a mixed bag. Sometimes it offers up surprisingly balanced, fair treatment of Latter-day Saints, and other time it is a source of shockingly ignorant and deceptive prejudice. This snippet about the LDS Cinema feature film "The Best Two Years" from its regular movie column is interesting. But note how the headline and the sub-heading include not-so-subtly coded anti-Mormon references to Evangelicals' contentions about grace and works in Mormonism. Source: Jeffrey Overstreet, "Film Forum: 'A Demon, A Princess, and Some Cows Walk into a Theatre...' Critics review Hellboy, The Prince & Me, Home on the Range, and Walking Tall - and can't get excited about any of them. Elsewhere, a movie about Mormons has style but lacks grace. Plus: More on Dogville and The Ladykillers" in Christianity Today, 8 April 2004). URL: http://www.christianitytoday.com/movies/filmforum/040408.html
Good works over grace in Mormon movie
The Best Two Years is only playing in limited release, but it may draw the attention and concern of Christian viewers, as it is a project funded and promoted by Mormons.
Ron Reed (Christianity Today Movies, http://www.christianitytoday.com/movies/reviews/besttwoyears.html) says the movie is "not primarily evangelistic; it's confessional. To its credit, The Best Two Years shows a refreshing willingness to acknowledge the foibles and possible problems with some Mormon missionary practices, but the story ultimately comes round to affirming the value of the whole enterprise. Christians may have objections to Mormonism, but viewers who can get past those concerns will connect at a human level with the sense of standing outside the prevailing culture, the passionate desire to have a testimony and share it with others, and the often painful tension between the mandate to evangelize and the immense personal and cultural barriers to carrying that out." Reed concludes that his personal objection to the film is its suggestion that eternal life depends upon good works rather than grace.
Mainstream critics (http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/TheBestTwoYears-10003258/) who have seen the film are giving it high praise... although it is worth noting that almost all of those that have reviewed it are based near Salt Lake City, Utah.
SOCIAL AND RELIGIOUS CONSERVATIVES PUSHING FOR USE OF NC-17 RATING - This article caught our eye because in it a Las Vegas theater chain rep mentions the significance of Latter-day Saints in their community. But the discussion of ratings is also of broader interest. Excerpt:
...ads for Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Dreamers" [which is rated NC-17 for its pornogaphic content] ran in many metropolitan dailies, and a random sampling of reactions from theater owners and theatergoers shows this particular line in the sand is welcome.Source: Gloria Goodale (staff writer), "Ratings rehab: NC-17 may no longer be Hollywood's scarlet letter. Why the new acceptance?" in The Christian Science Monitor, 12 April 2004. Read the full article online at: http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0412/p11s02-almo.html
"This absolutely helps us," says Lois Blackburn of the Utah-based Westates Theaters - a 25-screen chain with another 10-screen multiplex on the way - in Las Vegas for the annual theater owners' confab known as ShoWest. Despite the conservative Christian and Mormon neighborhood of her theaters, she says she'd have no problem carrying a film rated NC-17.
She cites the fact that the boundaries of R-rated content have shifted over the past decade. "So many of the films already are NC-17 [in content], we might as well just let people know that's what they are," she says. The unambiguous category also helps the theaters help parents, she adds. "With the R rating, we're always having problems with who's a guardian; who's entitled to bring in someone under 17," she says. "This way, if you're not 17, you're not coming in. Period. That's easier and faster for us."
CATHOLIC BYU PROFESSOR CASTIGATES LDS DIRECTOR KIETH MERRILL FOR "PASSION" COMMENTS - Juliana Boerio-Goates is the director of liturgy at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Orem. She is also a chemistry professor at Brigham Young University. She did not like some of Academy Award-winning Latter-day Saint film director Kieth Merrill's recent article in Meridian Magazine about Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of the Christ." Merrill was actually quite complimentary about Gibson and the movie, and basically said that he can neither recommend that people see it, nor recommend that people don't see it. It depends on the person. "Try to understand Catholicism," published Sunday, April 04, 2004. Boerio-Goates begins her op-ed piece:
The recent release of Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of Christ" has prompted a more general examination of the themes of death, redemption and hope as they appear in the Christian community.Boerio-Goates issues an invitation to Kieth Merrill and other Latter-day Saints who believe "that the Catholic focus ignores the Resurrection" to "participate with us in the liturgies of Holy Week." Read the full column in Utah County's Daily Herald: http://www.harktheherald.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=18215
Several LDS columnists, including Kieth Merrill, the LDS film director, have criticized Gibson as being too macabre and have extended their glib analysis to include the rest of Christendom.
Mr. Merrill, for example, has written that he is not surprised by what he considers to be Gibson's neglect of the Resurrection's joyful purpose because he is "accustomed to the Catholic emphasis on the pain, the suffering and death." He continues, "Latter-day Saints are blessed to know Jesus Christ, as few other Christians understand him. To us the story of Christ -- even his death -- is ultimately about life and hope. From the darkness comes the light. From his death comes life everlasting ..."
I am always nervous when a member of one religion speaks so authoritatively about the beliefs of another, but Mr. Merrill's remarks especially sadden me because they represent a basic ignorance of non-Mormon Christianity. Despite having lived in Utah for 22 years, I am still surprised by such attitudes.