Russell Crowe stars in "Unhinged".
Actors covet those times when they stand alone on a stage and share their craft with a captive audience.
Films that debut in theaters rarely get a solo opportunity. Usually a new movie or two vie for an audience's attention, along with holdover movies from the past few weeks.
As the coronavirus continued to spread in the US and extend the length of cinema closures, veteran filmmaker Mark Gill saw an opening where Russell Crowe's upcoming Unhinged feature could take advantage of this unique setting.
"If we waited for every last theater to open in America, it wouldn't be until next summer," said Gill, who has more than 30 years of experience in the film industry.
The decision meant the film had to wait in the balance while big budget features like "Tenet" and "Mulan" dictated the official reopening of major theater chains. But it also meant the film could hit theaters before those big pictures to avoid stiff competition and grab the attention of audiences who were desperate for fresh content.
Obstacles on the way
"Unhinged," which cost a little more than $ 30 million to make, will hit theaters on August 21 once the popcorn machines warm up and convince audiences that it's safe to return to the cinema. Of course, this strategy was not without its pitfalls.
Gill said the movie's upcoming release was "by far the toughest" in terms of marketing and sales. And that statement comes from a man who was once a production manager at Warner Bros. Independent and Miramax and has a number of credits including "Pulp Fiction", "The English Patient", "Good Will Hunting" and "Shakespeare in Love" . "
In 2018, Gill co-founded Solstice Studios with a handful of other industry experts and serves as the company's CEO and President. The ultimate goal is to produce between three and five films per year for a global audience, with an emphasis on action, thriller, and action-comedy genres that are easily broadcast to audiences outside of the middle class between $ 30 million and $ 80 million.
"Unhinged" will be the first feature to be released. Ben Affleck is tied to another thriller he's working on, Hypnotic, which should start filming in April.
Solstice was in the post-production of "Unhinged" when the coronavirus outbreak resulted in the studio's offices closing in mid-March. The film follows a young woman and her son who are harassed and chased by a man (Crowe) after a traffic incident.
"I came back to Virginia, where I had a composer in Spain, sound and editing in LA and visual effects in Vancouver, and two actors in Australia that we were still working on," said director Derrick Borte.
Borte set up his own command center and demonstration room in his house in order to keep an eye on all elements of post-production.
"I don't know if I want to do it again unless I'm forced to," he said. "But at the same time it was great to know that it is possible."
Bring "Unhinged" to theaters
Initially, the Solstice team wanted to delay the film's first release in September, but ultimately made the decision to be one of the first to hit theaters once it re-opened. The goal had been to make a debut in July, but that date was postponed to August when it became clear that major theater chains were not going to reopen last month.
With most of the competition being postponed to 2021, "Unhinged" will hit theaters next week and really only with the re-release of Christopher Nolan's "Inception" for the 10th anniversary and a handful of legacy titles like "Star Wars", "Jaws" and "Back to the Future." The following week, Disney's "The New Mutants" debuts, and Warner Bros. "Tenet" finally arrives on Labor Day weekend.
Overall, the thriller should run on about 2,000 screens in the United States, with about 70% of theaters in 44 states open to the public. In a more normal time, more than 5,400 theaters would be open in the US. While the film would not necessarily play in all of these locations, there would be significantly more seats available for Solstice to show the film.
The film has already been released in around 20 countries. As a result of the pandemic, the number of spectators is often limited to 25% to 50% of the theater capacity, which puts a strain on attendance numbers.
In the countries where it's shown, the drop in ticket sales from week to week is only around 8% to 12% instead of the typical 40% to 50%, according to Gill. Before the coronavirus, a movie had a big opening weekend and ticket sales were crunching in the second week.
However, during the pandemic, films have a longer tail. Probably because fewer people can attend each show. Fridays are no longer the big sales days, but Sundays. Outside the US, over the course of a weekend, consumers hear from friends or social media that local theaters are open for business and the experience was enjoyable. They then buy tickets at the end of the weekend instead of the beginning, Gill said, based on his talks with international theater chain operators.
"The answer is, thank god people are coming back to the theaters," said Gill.
In theaters where "Unhinged" traditionally had just one screen it gets two and in some cases three, he said. Prior to its US debut, the film made roughly $ 3.2 million from international ticket sales, the majority of which is from Australia.
It's difficult to predict exactly how the movie would have turned out in time without Covid-19, but the Road Rage thriller hit box office in the UK and Ireland on its first weekend and released Disney's holdover from "Onward" back in March and the re-release of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.
"This community experience where all of the crazy things happen on the screen in front of you, not actually in your real life, is a relief for people," said Crowe.