How Horror Studio Hopes to Make Killing

After Dark Films Plans to Release Its Next Bloodfest With No Rating and Market DVD at the Same Time

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- When After Dark Films CEO Courtney Solomon does business, Hollywood usually watches with its hands over its eyes. Not this time.

Given the sobriquet of "President Gore" in the indie film community, Mr. Solomon now has the rapt attention of Hollywood's biggest film studios -- not for the content of his next extremely grisly horror film, "Frontier(s)," but rather for its unusual distribution and marketing strategy.
'Frontier(s)' would have gotten an NC-17 rating, barring it from many theaters and stores.
'Frontier(s)' would have gotten an NC-17 rating, barring it from many theaters and stores.
Distributor Lionsgate will release "Frontier(s)" without any rating assigned to it from the Motion Picture Association of America -- giving the film access to more screens than it would have with an NC-17 rating. What's more, "Frontier(s)" will be out on DVD the weekend after its theatrical run in the top 10 markets May 9, eliminating the need for separate marketing campaigns for theater and home video.

The move is a significant gamble. As Mr. Solomon explains, a French-language horror film was never going to have enormous box-office potential, but the NC-17 rating it initially received from the MPAA would have doomed it, he said, both theatrically and on video. (Mr. Solomon noted that many of the largest theater chains, like Cinemark, won't exhibit NC-17 films, and most big video stores, like Blockbuster, won't stock them. Theaters will exhibit unrated films, and video stores will carry them, too.) "The last 40 minutes are just relentless blood and gore," said Mr. Soloman in an interview with Ad Age. "It's a gorgeous-looking film."

'Captivity' controversy
This is the same Mr. Soloman, of course, who made national headlines and caused public outrage last year for violating MPAA marketing protocols. Despite the group nixing the ad creative for the film "Captivity," he splashed exceptionally graphic images on billboards over Los Angeles and other cities hyping the film. He claimed it was a printing error, though many at the MPAA cast a skeptical eye at that excuse.

Mark Cuban, the owner of the Landmark Theaters chain, said that while he "loved that [Lionsgate and Mr. Soloman] were going day-and-date" with the film's release in theaters and on home video, "the issue of course isn't whether it's good for consumers, it's whether they can get any national theater chain beyond Landmark to carry the film."

Mr. Soloman has a cunning plan for that, too. He's "four-walling" the film in the top 10 markets -- jargon for essentially renting out a given theater and guaranteeing the exhibitor a predetermined fee instead of sharing gross receipts. It's financially risky, but he feels it will pay off in DVD sales. "This is what every studio wants to do," said Mr. Soloman. "Have their DVD marketing actively benefit from their theatrical marketing."

Such a maverick strategy has significant relevance to Hollywood's film studios, which are now forced to spend heavily on marketing twice -- once to launch a film in theaters and again when it makes its way to DVD. Shortly before Robert Iger took the reins of Walt Disney Co., he created a firestorm of protest from theater owners by suggesting the studio would eventually release films in theaters and on DVD at the same time.

Theater chains went ballistic, and Mr. Iger swiftly back-pedaled.
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