How Fox Searchlight Plans to Market the NC-17-Rated SHAME

     October 20, 2011

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Fox Searchlight’s distribution deal with Shame provided that the studio would not re-edit the movie for a lower-rating even though it’s almost certainly going to get an NC-17.  The movie, which follows the downward spiral of a sex addict (played brilliantly by Michael Fassbender), features copious amounts of graphic sex and nudity with a sprinkling of implied incest.

There are multiple challenges to marketing an NC-17 movie.  Most networks won’t air promos for an NC-17 film (at least not during primetime), newspapers are wary of buying ads for NC-17 movies, and even theaters aren’t eager to show NC-17 movies because it’s adults only.  There’s no possibility of anyone under the age of seventeen getting in and that cuts in on sales and allows for stupid folks to come out an accuse the theater of not being family friendly.  So what can Fox Searchlight do?  Hit the jump to find out

shame-posterWhen it comes to marketing in the award season, Fox Searchlight is one of the best studios around.  They’ve gotten fluff films like Little Miss Sunshine and Juno into the Best Picture race and last year they helped to turn a hard-sell picture like Black Swan into a box office smash with five Oscar nominations.  When it comes to Shame, Fox Searchlight could go the controversy route (aka “Pulling a Weinstein”), but they’ve opted for a smarter strategy.

The studio has revealed some of that strategy to THR.  The first phase will rely heavily on positive reviews from the movie’s festival tour (you can click here to read mine).  The movie has received critical acclaim at Sebastian, Telluride, Toronto, New York, and the London Film Festival, plus it picked up awards at the Venice Film Festival for Best Film and Best Actor.

Secondly, Shame isn’t going to open with a wide release.  It opens in New York and Los Angeles on December 2nd, which means that the studio will only have to rely on newspaper ad buys in those cities.  There’s no clear approach when it comes to advertising on television, but Searchlight plans to put a green-band trailer into theaters (I predict there will also be a red-band version released online).

Finally, Fox Searchlight will be making a major awards season push for best picture, director, actor, supporting actress, cinematography and original screenplay (all categories where it would be worthy of a nomination).  However, there’s a challenge in getting older voters (read: prudes) to give the movie a chance, and I don’t know how the studio clears that hurdle.

I’m glad Fox Searchlight isn’t running away from the movie and embracing the challenge.  Here’s what the studio co-president Steve Gilula had to say about the rating:

“I think NC-17 is a badge of honor, not a scarlet letter. We believe it is time for the rating to become usable in a serious manner.  The sheer talent of the actors and the vision of the filmmaker are extraordinary. It’s not a film that everyone will take easily, but it certainly breaks through the clutter and is distinctive and original. It’s a game changer.”

We would all do well to keep in mind that this isn’t unheard of.  Midnight Cowboy was Rated-X when it went into theaters (the rating became “NC-17″ when the MPAA forgot to copyright the X-rating and porn producers picked it up to label their hardcore material “XXX”), and the movie picked up seven Oscar nominations and for Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture.

I don’t care about awards as much as I care about recognition and the resulting career boosts it provides.  You put “Oscar-nominee” or “Oscar-winner” in front of someone’s name, and it provides them with more options and more freedom to make the movies they want.

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