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“Witnesses” finishes in theaters this week; the window of opportunity is closing, too

“Witnesses” finishes in theaters this week; the window of opportunity is closing, too August 31, 2021

 

James, Mark, Russ, Debbie, Dan, and Richard Lloyd Anderson
On 10 February 2017, we finished two days of interviews with Richard Lloyd Anderson (1926-2018), the great pioneer scholarly authority on the witnesses to the Book of Mormon. Shown here at the conclusion of the interviews: Richard Lloyd Anderson, seated. Behind him, from left to right, James Jordan, Mark Goodman, Russell Richins, Deborah Peterson, and Daniel Peterson.  He and his work inspired our “Witnesses” dramatic film, which, not coincidentally, is dedicated to the memory of “Richard Lloyd Anderson, A Witness to the Witnesses.”  (Pella Media photograph)

 

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It seems that this coming Thursday will be the last day of the theatrical run for the Interpreter Foundation’s dramatic film, Witnesses.  A “last day” was inevitable, of course, and it’s been very clear over the past few weeks that it was approaching.

 

Earlier this evening, I received a note from Brandon Purdie, the extremely effective head of Purdie Distribution, that read (in part) as follows:

 

Truly a remarkable theatrical run. Producers, thank you for a film that delivered on its promise. A distribution team that delivered on its promise. Arthur, thank you for all of the incredible support from Excel/Deseret Book – your team delivered in a spectacular way. 
As of Friday September 3 all theaters playing WITNESSES will final. WITNESSES stayed on screen for over 90 consecutive days during a pandemic, in the middle of the peak Summer cinema months, in the midst of all the giant Hollywood studio films, and it held its own every step of the way, grossing over $850K, ranking in the top 10 grossing films in America for over 15% of its entire theatrical release days. 

 

I’m guessing that the final box office total will come in at very near to $855,000.  We won’t have made a profit from box office receipts, but then, we never expected to do so.  We never solicited “investments” in the movie.  Rather, we sought donations.  We promised nothing back.  None of us will collect royalties.  In fact, we’ve always spoken of using whatever money we end up with after the overall Witnesses project toward a future film project.  (And we’re already discussing precisely that.)

 

By my count, Thursday, 2 September 2021, will be the 91st day of the theatrical run for Witnesses.  That’s essentially three months.

 

Curious how this stacked up against other theatrical films and against industry norms, I did a tiny bit of online searching.

 

About six years ago, one Steven McQuinn reported that

 

I’ve witnessed a change in theatrical distribution that is astonishing and still not complete. Not so long ago, a movie could stick around in first run as long as a month, and show up on VHS, subsequently disc, a year later. Now, a first run of the highest magnitude lasts little more than a month and is on disc only a couple of months later, at the most. You can buy a Blu-ray on Amazon of a movie still showing, although it won’t be delivered right away.

The transition continues. Discs are considered on their way out, being replaced increasingly by streaming video, and discount second run theaters are nearly extinct. All this has happened in just the last five years.  (See https://www.quora.com/How-long-does-a-movie-typically-stay-in-theaters.)

 

Just a year ago, Patrick Freeman (“novelist, screenwriter and singer/songwriter”), wrote that

 

The long and the short of all this is, a film might be pulled from a theater after only a couple weeks. Or, if it’s successful, it might run a bit longer. But it’s rarely ever more than a month anymore.  (See https://www.quora.com/How-long-does-a-movie-typically-stay-in-theaters.)

 

Says another website,

 

On average, big blockbuster movies stay in theaters for about four weeks.

 

In 2015, writing for the CNBC website, Mark Fahey explained that

 

In fact, at least 20 percent of all wide-release movies (defined as playing in at least 2,000 theaters) run for only two weeks, according to a Big Crunch analysis of more than 700 wide-release films in the last six years. Practically no movies close before the first two weeks. . . .

“If it’s a small independent film, it may just move around the country and it may just play for one week in a particular location,” said Bruce Nash, founder of Nash Information Services. . . .

On average, movies run for about four weeks in at least 2,000 theaters, and some films will run in at least 1,000 theaters for another week after that.

So, generally, it’s safe to say that a two-week run time is a sign that a movie missed the mark.

 

According to a graph that accompanies Fahey’s article, about one in five “wide-release” movies — which he defines as movies that open in at least 2000 theaters nationally (well over five times the number of theaters in which Witnesses, virtually the definition of “a small independent film,” was ever available) — closes at two weeks.  The average “wide-release” film lasts about four weeks.  Which is to say at about thirty days.  A third of the theater lifetime of Witnesses.

 

So you can perhaps understand why those of us who conceived and produced Witnesses are reasonably content with its performance thus far.  Moreover, we’re still not done.

 

Once again in the words of Patrick Freeman, “because of the changing times there are myriad windows of opportunity for a movie to recoup its investment for the studio. Once it’s finished its theatrical run there is Streaming, PPV and VOD, Pay Cable, Basic Cable, TV, In-flight movies, and DVD and Bluray sales.”

 

And that’s the territory — what Arthur Van Wagonen, of Deseret Book/Excel Entertainment, calls “the next phase of the film’s lifecycle” — into which we’re now entering with Witnesses.  Furthermore, as our distributor, Brandon Purdie, also indicates in his note to me,

 

One-off showings and limited-run requests will arise over the next few weeks/months/year. When they do I will accommodate them. I’ve left enough budget to make sure we can ship content to any screenings requests that may arise (that would be equitable).

 

And, as I’ve indicated from the beginning, Witnesses has never represented more than just the initial portion of a broader and more complex project.  Our docudrama, Undaunted: Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, is very nearly finished.  We’ve already commenced additional interviews for our short features or “snippets”; I’m scheduled to conduct one such interview on Thursday.  And our website project, Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, has already been launched and will continue to grow and to evolve.  It’s intended and designed to have a life of its own, supportive of the films but quite independent of them.

 

I’m deeply grateful to all those who have made this possible, and who continue to make it possible.  I hope that those of you who liked Witnesses — and those of you who were unable to see it in a theater — will consider buying the DVD, or purchasing it in some other form.  If you want more high-quality Latter-day Saint moviemaking, you need to support it.

 

Posted from Newport Beach, California

 

 


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