As an ex-theatrical film distributor myself, I’m always following trends in the industry as it evolves due to new technologies and changing public tastes. Yesterday’s L.A. Times had a good article on Jonathan Dern’s The Bigger Picture which, through various subsidiaries, is distributing anime and kiddie films to weekend matinees on a regular monthly schedule.
Dern’s company has found a way to market direct-to-video animated features to digitally equipped theatres, usually a few weeks before their DVD release. Filling the theatre isn’t a big concern for his business model, a fact made possible due to the low costs involved with distributing a film via digital projection.
Although major studio movies attract big crowds on weekends, Dern said that over the course of a typical week auditoriums are often filled to only 10% to 15% of capacity.
“If we can move the dial 1%, that’s a big number,” Dern said.
Bigger Picture started three years ago, when Dern and Rutkowski came up with the “Kidtoons” animation programs. A typical program might include a G-rated feature, such as this spring’s “Strawberry Shortcake: Berry Blossom Festival,” plus cartoon shorts, music videos and singalongs.
“The light bulb went on,” Dern said. “We said, ‘When else are there very few people in theaters? When else could we put people in seats?'”
If I had to guess, I’d suspect that Dern’s company is making its money by charging a distribution fee from the film’s video company, who may consider this a justifiable cost of special marketing the DVD release. Is it working? I’m not sure what kind of box office money they are generating (it wouldn’t surprise me if they are offering these films to theatres for free) but apparently theatre owners are pleased.