By David Poland

Gardener On A Date

Focus has moved The Constant Gardener to August 31… and my anxiety level about how this magnificent film will perform moved from high to ridiculous.
The date is pretty much identical to Focus’s 2004 release, Vanity Fair… also a film for adults… also a well-respected filmmaker… but also with Reese Witherspoon. Still, released on the Wednesday before Labor Day weekend, the 6-day Labor Day weekend total was $7.4. The film totaled out at $16.1 million.
And it got a total of zero Oscar nominations.
The other big Focus release in September was two years ago with Lost In Translation. The film opened on September 12 on 23 screens with a massive $40,221 per screen average. It went to 183 screens the next weekend and grossed $2.6 million. It went to 488 screens the next weekend and grossed $3.7 million. And it then went to 864 screens before one week later hitting its screen count peak with 882 screens. At that point, it had grossed just over $18 million. But without ever appearing on more than 700 screens again, it played all fall in a smaller number of screens, accelerating again when awards nominations and wins started arriving, but still, keeping its availability tight. 23 weeks later, the film had grossed $44.6 million domestic.
The film received four Oscar nominations, all in the Top Eight/Seven categories (you can’t get both an Original and Adapted Screenplay nod), with one win for Sofia Coppola.
Team Focus is trying to split the difference with The Constant Gardener. In a brutally busy fall, they looked for a slot for this adult thriller/love story and found that last August was the only place where a film without major selling names or a great deal of teen appeal could breath.
Can Focus make Constant Gardener the March of The Penguins for adults?
It’s not an easy task.
Dead Again had a $38 million run with an August 23 start but it hard Robin Williams and a still hot Emma Thompson/Ken Branagh combo. Williams also fronted a One Hour Photo launch on August 21… $32 million. Both films were well reviewed and well liked, but neither film got a single Oscar nod.
The Good Girl opened on August 9, but was still able to have big weekends through Labor Day. Jennifer Aniston… heavy indie cred… no Oscar nods.
I know that Focus Features does care about The Constant Gardener. It is easily a better film than Vanity Fair and I would argue that it is a cut above Lost In Translation. But is it engaging in a way that will keep people focused (pun unavoidable) on getting to the movie theater?
Of course, if the strategy fails – an eventuality which Focus is not planning on facing – the DVD date can be moved into the heart of the awards season, not only generating another round of media discussion but also kicking a second advertising budget on top of the awards budget. Even if the film succeeds, you may remember that Focus with Lost in Translation and parent company Universal with Ray last year, were fearless about going into the Home Entertainment part of their plan even as the films were still generating money at the box office.
Another interesting angle.
I am a believer that history is locked in… until it changes. So maybe there is a good answer to one of the least friendly non-teen movie dates of the year… one of the least friendly Oscar dates of the year… for one of the finest films of this year. It will certainly require the diligence of the most constant of gardeners.

3 Responses to “Gardener On A Date”

  1. Martin says:

    oops sorry for the double post, comments seem to update slow on this board?

  2. Chucky in Jersey says:

    Focus may take “Broken Flowers” wide on 8/26. That’s why “The Constant Gardener” is opening on 8/31. You don’t want to open 2 pictures aimed at the same audience on the same date.
    Labor Day weekend can be good or bad for arty fare depending on what’s playing.

  3. Sanchez says:

    If Gardener is even in the same ballpark as Vanity Fair then we can stop wating our time even discussing it.

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“Well, actually, of that whole group that I call the post-60s anti-authority auteurs, a lot of them came from television. Peckinpah’s the only one whose television work represents his feature work. I mean, like the only one. Mark Rydell can direct a really good episode of ‘Gunsmoke’ and Michael Ritchie can direct a really good episode of ‘The Big Valley,’ but they don’t necessarily look like The Candidate. But Peckinpah’s stuff, even the scripts he wrote that he didn’t even direct, have a Peckinpah feel – the way I think there’s a Corbucci West – suggest a Peckinpah West. That even in his random episodes that he wrote for ‘Gunsmoke’ – it’s right there.”
~ Quentin Tarantino

“The thought is interrupted by an odd interlude. We are speaking in the side room of Casita, a swish and fairly busy Italian bistro in Aoyama – a district of Tokyo usually so replete with celebrities that they spark minimal fuss. Kojima’s fame, however, exceeds normal limits and adoring staff have worked out who their guest is. He stops mid-sentence and points up towards the speakers, delighted. The soft jazz that had been playing discreetly across the restaurant’s dark, hardwood interior has suddenly been replaced with the theme music from some of Kojima’s hit games. Harry Gregson-Williams’ music is sublime in its context but ‘Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots’ is not, Kojima acknowledges, terribly restauranty. He pauses, adjusting a pair of large, blue-framed glasses of his own design, and returns to the way in which games have not only influenced films, but have also changed the way in which people watch them. “There are stories being told [in cinema] that my generation may find surprising but which the gamer generation doesn’t find weird at all,” he says.
~ Hideo Kojima