Potential Oscar contenders, once almost exclusively released in the last three months of the year, are now being debuted throughout the summer [via Netscape] as well. The change in thinking is at least partly the result of Crash‘s successful utilization of the tactic a couple of years ago. It’s also because studios are hoping an early year release followed on by an awards-season DVD will double up on the press and buzz the movie gets. Some studios are even making special appeals to Academy voters, inviting them to screenings throughout the summer.
Summer releases of smaller, more award-friendly films is a great idea in terms of alternative programming. The audience for a movie like Waitress is going to be much different than that for Transformers and providing them something to see at the multiplex obviously makes sense. But it’s hard for these smaller movies, which often come from smaller studios, to break through the hype machines being engaged for the bigger movies. These movies aren’t going to be the subject of endless mainstream media articles on both the movie’s production and other topics. They also don’t get the product placement deals, which in and of themselves generate a ton of coverage and hype.
Unfortunately the summer of 2007 has proven to be a poor one for independent films. With large-scale studio films doing better than expected – and therefore not vacating screens as quickly as they might have – fewer programming slots are opening up for indies. That’s causing problems for the smaller movies, which have longer shelf lives since they’re not dependent on opening weekend to determine their fate. That’s forcing the mini-majors to define the terms of success by keeping the screen count small and then taking whatever expansion is available to them whenever it pops up. But exhibitors need to be convinced that it’s worth devoting the screen(s) to the movie when it could be used for a major release that will bring in more patrons.
Even the usual strategy of releasing independent movies in July and August is being tested since late summer is, this year, not the same dumping ground for bigger movies that the studios don’t hold out much hope for. This year we still have major releases such as The Simpsons Movie, The Bourne Ultimatum and others that aren’t exactly being cleared off of studio shelves.