How limited film releases are denying artists their livelihood
Among the most well received films released in 2015, standing next to giants like The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road, was a little independent stop-motion animation called Anomalisa.
This sombre love story was the latest offering from writer-director Charlie Kaufman whose previous success with bizarre screenplays for Being John Malkovich and Adaptation made him a household name in independent cinema in the early 2000s.
With a meager budget of eight million dollars, Anomalisa stunned critics with its thought-provoking and introspective look at human relationships with many such as Peter Travers of The Rolling Stone and Amy Nicholson of LA Weekly hailing it as a masterpiece, a modern classic and other such lavish praise.
With such reception, it should be a shock to learn Anomalisa bombed miserably at the box office, barely making an eighth of its budget back in ticket sales.
If you can’t understand how this could happen to such a critical darling, ask yourself this first: where was Anomalisa playing near you?
Here in Waterloo, the only local engagement of the film was a two week showing at the Princess Original and Princess Twin, in February. It was kept out of the major theatres. Advertisements were scarce. Word of mouth mostly consisted of fans bemoaning its unavailability and the general public being unaware of its existence.
It bombed because it had no choice but to bomb.
This unfortunate situation is created when a distribution company has no confidence in an independent film’s potential for success and dooms it to a limited release. To ensure their investment is as risk free as possible, companies like Paramount, Anomalisa’s distributor, limit a release exclusively to major cities when they are uncertain if the film will turn a profit.
A similar fate befell Kaufman’s previous failure Synechdoche, New York and it goes to show when companies refuse the support the films that need it the most, they inadvertently kill those films’ potential for success.
Traveling to a major city to watch a film, no matter the quality, is unreasonable when the multiplex experience has conditioned us to expect convenience and variety with our theatres.
With independently owned theatres being a rarity, a film like Anomalisa didn’t have a venue in December, as the multiplex screens were reserved for Paramount’s Daddy’s Home, the Will Ferrell comedy which (unsurprisingly) was a hit.
I was forced to stream Kaufman’s film—and now knowing his financial situation—I cannot help but feel guilty I was unable to support him.
In an interview with The Wrap, Kaufman expressed his disappointment with Anomalisa’s failure and how his career has potentially suffered because of it.
The project Kaufman has been planning since 2010 is a musical called Frank or Francis, a film that’s future now seems grim and uncertain in lieu of recent box office disappointment.
With a project stuck in development hell and no studio willing to trust a two time box office bomber, he has stated he is taking contract work for studios to “pay the bills.”
For such a unique and original artist like Kaufman, it’s insulting that no studio is willing to trust him when they unconsciously put him in this situation.
An independent filmmaker expects support from their distributor and while he never raised any ire for Paramount in his interview, he was shocked that their involvement did not equal success. As Kaufman states, he “made no money on that movie, because there was no money to be made.”
I loved the film in all its melancholic beauty, but thinking how unfair distribution practices could rob the world of another film like it unsettles my enjoyment.
I have confidence, as a great admirer of his work, that Kaufman will always find work and somehow get another film out there. But the support of his fans is not enough.
In all directors there is a spark of creativity and while his fans and critics may fan the flames, when a distributor adds no fuel, artists like Kaufman get left out in the cold.