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.

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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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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon