Commentary

Soderbergh's Marketing Experiment Opens To Unfortunate Results

The conventional wisdom seems to be that Stephen Soderbergh threw the baby out with the marketing budget. Despite a 93% Rotten Tomatoes rating, his $29-million action-comedy Logan Lucky finished a disappointing No. 3 at the box office over the weekend — pulling in a measly $8.1 million — after he made a point of doing the promotional thing his way.

“Starring Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Riley Keough, Seth MacFarlane, Katie Holmes and Hilary Swank, Logan Lucky follows two brothers (Tatum and Driver) as they attempt to pull off a heist during a NASCAR race in North Carolina.” But it was “mowed down at the domestic box office by The Hitman's Bodyguard [$21 million] despite rapturous reviews,” writes Pamela McClintock for the Hollywood Reporter.

The opening was “the lowest nationwide start of Soderbergh's career behind the 2002 space odyssey Solaris ($6.7 million) and the lowest when adjusting for inflation,” McClintock reports.

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“Soderbergh, who, having battled the majors on many issues over the years, decided to make a film that disdains their production funding as well as their machinery for distribution and marketing. Indeed, the marketing concept behind Logan Lucky totally contradicts that of the majors,” Peter Bart wrote for Deadline Hollywood earlier this month.

“The filmmaker is a long-term skeptic about studio marketing strategies, believing that too much money is lavished on the frantic pursuit of giant opening grosses. Hence, modest funding was allocated to build ‘awareness’ for Logan Lucky — the project has been all but invisible in major markets,” Bart continues, reporting that the overall budget would be about half as much as it would have been out of a studio. 

Logan Lucky “is a bold experiment to shake up the system [Soderbergh] has railed against for years,” Ryan Faughnder wrote in the Los Angeles Times on Thursday. 

“If it works, it’ll be a classic Hollywood comeback story, mixed with a revenge tale. Soderbergh joins a long list of directors who have groused about the lack of creative freedom when working with the major studios. Some have been especially irked by the lack of influence over how their films are marketed,” Faughnder continues.

Hitman’s Bodyguard, on the other hand, is “fueled by an aggressive marketing push, and a trio of stars at the center — Samuel L. Jackson as a notorious hitman, and Salma Hayek as his equally threatening wife, and Ryan Reynolds as a bodyguard,” points outVariety’s Seth Kelley.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard is generating great word of mouth among moviegoers,” Lionsgate’s distribution president David Spitz tells Kelley. “It has a clear runway in the weeks ahead, and we expect it to play well right into September.

Logan Lucky, despite its stellar reviews, may not be as fortunate.

“High-octane fun that's smartly assembled without putting on airs, Logan Lucky marks a welcome end to Steven Soderbergh's retirement” is the summary judgment of 129 critic’s reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, proving he has not lost his deft touch at storytelling. Perhaps that also applies to his analysis of the weekend’s results and his expectations for the future.

In an email to the New York Times’ Brooks Barnes yesterday, Soderbergh “called the turnout ‘certainly frustrating,’ but he vowed to try again with his next film. He said that Unsane, starring Claire Foy and Jay Pharoah and shot in secret in June using an iPhone, will ‘go out with the same approach, though with some new marketing ideas we didn’t get to use on Logan Lucky,’” Barnes writes.

“‘This weekend’s number is not a problem; we were in profit as soon as someone bought a ticket,’ Mr. Soderbergh said, noting that 46% of total domestic ticket sales ‘will go into a pool shared by the cast and crew,’” Barnes continues. “He added, ‘The entire experience has been a blast, which was also one of my goals.’”

Forbes contributor Scott Mendelson points out that “the film was financed via foreign advances and presales, which means the $30 million budget was mostly accounted for (Bleecker Street is the domestic distributor) and marketing costs were partially covered by selling some of the post-theatrical rights. So, we saw a lot of articles about how the film was going to revolutionize the industry. And if the film had opened well, I would have gladly joined the bandwagon.”

It would appear the bandwagon is actually heading in the opposite  direction on Monday morning.

 
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