View Full Version : Borat buzz took theatres by surprise

11-08-2006, 07:34 AM
Borat buzz took theatres by surprise

By JIM SLOTEK - Toronto Sun

In his book Adventures In The Screen Trade, screenwriter William Goldman writes three words that explain how Hollywood is run:“Nobody knows anything.”

It goes a long way to explaining the chaotic release this past week of the acclaimed comedy Borat:Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan. One of the most talked-about films of the year, it opened on about as many screens as your average Woody Allen movie.

The result: Quicker than you could say “yakshemayesh,” Borat, which played on only 1,100 screens in 837 theatres, took in a “very nice” $26.5 million. That was $6 million more than The Santa Clause 3, which played on 4,400 screens.

In Canada, the gap between supply and demand was even worse. A spokesperson for Cineplex Odeon (which also owns the Famous Players and Galaxy chains) said Borat only opened on 50 screens across Canada.

What that meant at your average googleplex theatre was one screen devoted to Borat, and pandemonium as thousands tried to get in. In Toronto, staff at the Paramount coped as well as they could, moving Borat to the two biggest rooms after Friday’s stampede. Saturday’s audience was largely made up of people who’d bought tickets the night before after being turned away, or who’d bought their tickets in advance online.

Playing catch-up, Twentieth Century Fox has said it plans to put Borat in as many as 2,500 theatres by this weekend (110 in Canada) — though its president of distribution insinuated to the L.A. Times that it was all part of a well-thought-out plan.

But it’s more likely the studio didn’t trust the hype, didn’t want another Snakes On A Plane! debacle on its hands and hedged its bet. (After months of “viral” hype via the ’Net, the calculatedly-cheesy Samuel L. Jackson thriller Snakes On A Plane! opened in August on 4,900 screens and took in a paltry $13 million in its debut weekend, leaving the studio New Line with egg on its face.)

Last week industry watchers were shocked when Fox announced a limited release schedule for Borat, a move that was rumoured to be based on audience testing in the mid-West that suggested Red-Staters didn’t “get” Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Kazakhstani reporter” character (not so coincidentally, they’re the ones who are the butt of most of Borat’s antics in his quest to “discover America”). Fox clearly panicked.

Here’s another Hollywood truism: Audience testing is almost always wrong.

In fact, demand for Borat was strong all over North America (I saw my first Borat trailer at a theatre in North Carolina this summer and the audience was screaming with laughter).

The difference between Snakes On A Plane! and Borat? People figured out quickly that you didn’t have to see Snakes On A Plane! to get the joke (and the movie was crap).

Borat, on the other hand, was a finished film that has been building positive word of mouth since it debuted at Cannes and later played the Toronto International Film Festival.

It’s also based on a popular TV show so there’s a built-in core of fans.

The weekend’s Borat box office numbers, incidentally, are on a par with the ones for The Blair Witch Project ($29 million on 1,101 screens) and Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 ($24 million on 868 screens), two more cases of studios apparently having no clue of the pent-up demand for their movies.

11-08-2006, 07:39 AM
Fox did the right thing here. They hedged their bets, and the movie still did blockbuster numbers. If the film doesn't do well this week, it was never going to do better, since the movie has almost no negative word of mouth scaring off potential movie-goers. Those people who couldn't get in last weekend are going to see it this weekend. If anything, the sold out theater just built the buzz.