Os­car-win­ning di­rec­tor es­chews stu­dio back­ing for ‘Lucky Lo­gan’

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - Showtime - Palm Beach - - FRONT PAGE - By Ryan Faugh­n­der Los An­ge­les Times

Af­ter a pro­lific ca­reer di­rect­ing films, in­clud­ing “sex, lies and video­tape,” “Traf­fic” and the “Ocean’s Eleven” se­ries, Steven Soder­bergh said in 2013 that he was quit­ting the fea­ture film busi­ness. He com­plained of the lack of fi­nan­cial and cre­ative con­trol di­rec­tors get in Hol­ly­wood.

Four years later, he’s back with “Lo­gan Lucky,” a $29 mil­lion ac­tion-com­edy that he’s re­leas­ing with­out the help of a tra­di­tional stu­dio. The un­con­ven­tional strat­egy is a bold ex­per­i­ment to shake up the sys­tem he has railed against for years. Va­ri­ety re­ported an open­ing week­end box of­fice of $8.1 mil­lion, a dis­ap­point­ing third place be­hind “Hit­man’s Body­guard” and “Annabelle: Cre­ation.”

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.

Go­ing it alone is a risky move. Movies re­leased by stu­dios and ma­jor dis­trib­u­tors ben­e­fit from ex­pen­sive TV ads, bill­board cam­paigns and me­dia jun­kets that gen­er­ate hype long be­fore a movie opens. Stu­dios also have long-stand­ing re­la­tion­ships with the ma­jor the­ater chains, a cru­cial as­set for film­mak­ers who lack Soder­bergh’s ca­chet in the in­dus­try.

“Lo­gan Lucky,” about sib­lings (Chan­ning Ta­tum, Adam Driver) who try to pull off a heist in North Carolina dur­ing a NAS­CAR race, was not ex­pected to top the box-of­fice charts this week­end, de­spite ma­jor stars and stel­lar re­views. But, if suc­cess­ful, it could pave the way for more film­mak­ers to es­chew Hol­ly­wood’s long-en­trenched sys­tem of re­leas­ing and pro­mot­ing movies.

“You’ve got to ad­mire him,” said Jeff Bock, an­a­lyst for Ex­hibitor Re­la­tions. “It’s ad­mirable when you don’t have to kow­tow to how the stu­dio wants to mar­ket your film. He’s an au­teur ... so he wants com­plete con­trol.”

Soder­bergh, through a spokesman, de­clined to com­ment.

To re­lease “Lo­gan Lucky,” Soder­bergh launched dis­tri­bu­tion com­pany Fin­ger­print Re­leas­ing with the help of Dan Fell­man, the for­mer pres­i­dent of do­mes­tic dis­tri­bu­tion for Warner Bros., who now runs a con­sult­ing op­er­a­tion. Fin­ger­print teamed with small New York dis­trib­u­tor Bleecker Street to help with mar­ket­ing and dis­tri­bu­tion, and funded the mar­ket­ing bud­get by sell­ing post-the­atri­cal rights to other com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing stream­ing gi­ant Ama­zon.

A key part of the plan was to buf­fer the risk of go­ing rogue by lim­it­ing the mar­ket­ing costs, which add up to tens of mil­lions of dol­lars per movie for the stu­dios. They held back on TV advertising, sav­ing 80 per­cent of their me­dia buy­ing bud­get un­til the last week of the mar­ket­ing cam­paign, in con­trast to stu­dios that usu­ally be­gin spend­ing big money months in ad­vance.

In­stead of look­ing to Los An­ge­les and New York, they fo­cused on court­ing au­di­ences in the South and other re­gions, pre­mier­ing the movie in Knoxville, Tenn., for a char­ity fundraiser with Regal En­ter­tain­ment, and send­ing Ta­tum on a road trip through NAS­CAR coun­try. Dur­ing one stop in Statesville, N.C., the ac­tor posted a video of him­self danc­ing with an em­ployee at a gas sta­tion.

“The key is, this is a mar­ket­ing cam­paign that is not a big stu­dio ma­chine,” said Jack Fo­ley, pres­i­dent of dis­tri­bu­tion at Bleecker Street.

Ex­ec­u­tives hope “Lo­gan Lucky” will pick up steam as the ad cam­paign picks up. The film also has a chance to draw movie­go­ers this week and be­yond be­cause of strong re­views and a dearth of movie com­pe­ti­tion dur­ing a slow Au­gust at the mul­ti­plex.

“We’re look­ing at it based on our first 10 days,” Fell­man said. “We have a movie peo­ple en­joy, and we didn’t spend at a level to cre­ate some gi­ant open­ing.”

It’s a tough en­vi­ron­ment, es­pe­cially for in­de­pen­dent dis­trib­u­tors. The box of­fice is headed to­ward its worst sum­mer in at least a decade, with sales since the first week­end of May fall­ing 12 per­cent from the same pe­riod last year.

Still, Soder­bergh has a long track record of mak­ing com­mer­cially vi­able films, in­clud­ing the three “Ocean’s Eleven” movies, which col­lected more than $1 bil­lion in world­wide grosses. He won the 2001 di­rect­ing Os­car for “Traf­fic,” which grossed about $125 mil­lion do­mes­ti­cally. (He was nom­i­nated for box-of­fice hit “Erin Brock­ovich” the same year.)

More re­cent ef­forts, “Side Ef­fects” and “Hay­wire,” were duds. But 2012’s “Magic Mike,” about a crew of male strip­pers, grossed $114 mil­lion do­mes­ti­cally off a $7 mil­lion pro­duc­tion bud­get. “Magic Mike,” it’s worth not­ing, was re­leased by Warner Bros.

It re­mains to be seen whether Soder­bergh’s ap­proach will take hold. Fell­man said Fin­ger­print plans to make more movies with di­rec­tors other than Soder­bergh, and he’s al­ready heard from film­mak­ers who may be in­ter­ested in pur­su­ing a sim­i­lar path to the mul­ti­plex.

“This is our first at­tempt,” he said. “Many peo­ple out there are look­ing at this and root­ing for us.”

CLAUDETTE BARIUS/FIN­GER­PRINT RE­LEAS­ING PHO­TOS

Di­rec­tor Steven Soder­bergh is re­leas­ing “Lo­gan Lucky,” a $29 mil­lion ac­tion-com­edy, with­out the help of a tra­di­tional stu­dio. It’s open­ing week­end box­of­fice take was $8.1 mil­lion.

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