"Blue Crush" was an under-$30-million labor of love for producer Brian Grazer, an avid surfer who oversaw its filming on the big waves of Oahu's North Shore. So why is he totally bummed that his movie is opening today?
After much lobbying by Universal Pictures, Grazer reluctantly agreed to move his film's release from July 12 to today. But he's still fuming over what he views as a missed opportunity to launch his lighthearted girl-empowerment movie during the beach-party mood of midsummer rather than when back-to-school blahs are setting in.
"I always preferred that the movie opened in July," said Grazer, for whom the movie was a departure from the expensive star-driven hits such as "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and "A Beautiful Mind" that have made him one of Hollywood's hottest producers.
Universal Pictures Vice Chairman Marc Shmuger said he too would have liked the film to open in July, which is historically a much more lucrative moviegoing month than August. But he decided the movie would face too much competition on the July 12 weekend and felt that the studio needed more time to launch a grass-roots marketing blitz and convince a critical demographic--the under-21 crowd--that the film was "cool."
"This movie was not on the radar," Shmuger said. "We had to make it relevant to the pop culture."
Though disputes between filmmakers and studios are commonplace in Hollywood, the "Blue Crush" ordeal illustrates how high the stakes are in the chess game that studios play when picking release dates.
Because quality alone is not enough to make a hit these days, studios pour tens of millions into marketing campaigns and stake out key weekends to open their biggest films, sometimes two years in advance. Sony Pictures Entertainment already has claimed the May 7 weekend in 2004 for its sequel to "Spider-Man."
The competition is particularly fierce during the highest-grossing seasons of the year--the summer and winter holidays--when studios regularly engage in last-minute jockeying of releases to stay out of one another's way.
Sony Pictures and Revolution Studios, for example, moved the high-octane spy-action thriller "XXX" from its planned Aug. 2 release date to Aug. 9 to avoid banging up against Walt Disney Co.'s supernatural thriller "Signs," starring Mel Gibson.
"The release date is certainly one of the most important factors in opening a movie," Warner Bros. distribution chief Dan Fellman said. "We're in a very risky business, and you want to open a film in a time frame when you can reach the widest possible audience with the least amount of competition."
Something certainly not lost on Grazer is that 25% of the nation's youngsters already are back in school, and by next weekend 40% will be. By Labor Day weekend, it's 60%. And, according to Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Co., business has been down for the last four weekends.
Shmuger insists there's still plenty of audience out there.
"It's less perfect to push it back to August, but it's still within summer playtime," Shmuger said. "We have to choose among imperfect possibilities all the time. You try to make the best choice possible."
In the case of "Blue Crush," the discussions about a release date were the subject of a series of meetings earlier this year and reflected in a two-page memo to Grazer in which Shmuger handicapped the competition.
Shmuger feared that a small, unknown film without stars, extraordinary visual effects or a slam-dunk high concept risked getting wiped out by a wave of high-profile movies such as "Men in Black II" and "Road to Perdition," which came into the market with ready-made audience awareness.
Inspired by Susan Orlean's Outside magazine article "Surf Girls of Maui" and directed and co-written by John Stockwell, the film features an ensemble cast of relative newcomers.
Kate Bosworth, Michele Rodriguez and Hawaii native Sanoe Lake portray surfer roommates trying to make it in the adrenaline-charged, male-dominated and dangerous sport of competitive surfing.
Universal executives hope that "Blue Crush" will become a sleeper hit much like "Bring It On," the studio's low-cost cheerleader film that debuted in late August 2000 to a strong reception, and last summer's car-racing movie "The Fast and the Furious."
The studio launched an aggressive promotional campaign to raise awareness among young moviegoers, deploying local "street teams" across the country to hand out "Blue Crush" beach towels, beach bags, posters and other movie paraphernalia at more than 1,000 different events--from a Britney Spears concert in Detroit to a teen fashion show at Minneapolis' Mall of America.