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Word of Mouth: Anchor Bay is David facing Goliaths during award season

Studio's marketing budget for 'City Island' and 'Solitary Man' is slim, but it hopes for good buzz for stars Andy Garcia and Michael Douglas.

November 11, 2010|By John Horn, Los Angeles Times

Hollywood's award season battle is suddenly in full swing — limousines are shuttling filmmakers to and from the Four Seasons, suites are filling up at the Chateau Marmont and actors' entourages are crowding the lobbies of theaters hosting screenings for industry guilds.

Amid all the spare-no-expense campaigning, Andy Garcia can be found driving his own car around town, trying to drum up award voters' interest in "City Island," a tiny movie that has proved its doubters wrong at every turn. "We can't compete" with the money big studios spend for awards, Garcia said. "All you can do is your best effort with what you have."

Filmed more than two years ago and released in March, "City Island" is one of two longshot movies thrust into the award race from Anchor Bay Films, the 2-year-old theatrical division of direct-to-video company Anchor Bay Entertainment. For most of its Hollywood life, Anchor Bay has specialized in lowbrow genre titles ("The Dead Next Door," "The Killing Machine") and exercise videos ("10 Minute Solution: Dance Off Belly Fat," "Billy's Bootcamp Cardio Inferno").

Now, with Garcia's "City Island" and Michael Douglas' "Solitary Man," the company not only has two art-house breakouts but also two potential Academy Award contenders.

"City Island" grossed $6.7 million in domestic theaters, more than Roadside Attractions' "Winter's Bone" and more than double Fox Searchlight's "Never Let Me Go." "Solitary Man" sold $4.4 million in tickets, more than Sony Pictures Classics' critically acclaimed "Please Give."

Anchor Bay is pushing Garcia and Douglas for lead actor nominations (Fox will push Douglas for supporting actor for his role in "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps"). "City Island" and "Solitary Man" are eligible in other categories, but their odds might be significantly poorer in the race for best picture, director and screenplay.

Although some studios can (and will) commit more than $10 million to a single film's award campaign, including television spots and newspaper advertisements, Anchor Bay can spend only a fraction of that, as its profits are so comparatively slender that any significant expenditures would wipe out a film's earnings.

Anchor Bay has spent about $3 million buying and releasing the film, and because Anchor Bay collects about half of the box-office receipts, it will need video and television revenue to make a profit. The company declined to say how much it was committing to its "City Island" and "Solitary Man" award efforts, but it is likely not more than several hundred thousand dollars for each film.

"Anchor Bay doesn't pretend to be a competitor with the major studios and the advertising budgets they have," said Kevin Kasha, the company's executive vice president for worldwide acquisitions. "Advertising is terrific, but it all comes down to the performances in the film."

In "City Island," Garcia plays a New York corrections officer with more than enough drama in his personal life who dreams of becoming an actor. Douglas plays a disgraced car dealer in "Solitary Man" who is as ruthless when hitting on women (he seduces his girlfriend's daughter) as he is when trying to close a big deal. Because Douglas has been undergoing treatment for throat cancer, he has not been able to work the award circuit. Garcia has no such limitations.

Garcia was a presenter at the Hollywood Film Festival's awards gala, appeared at Screen Actors Guild and Writers Guild of America screenings in New York and Los Angeles, and has done question-and-answer sessions at "City Island" screenings for the trade newspaper Variety on both coasts. He also has granted frequent interviews with print, radio and online journalists who specialize in covering Hollywood awards.

As a large SUV and a Town Car for some of the talent in "127 Hours" idled in front of the Landmark cinema on a recent night, Garcia steered his own vehicle into a parking lot under the West Los Angeles theater. Unlike James Franco and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy from "127 Hours," Garcia arrived for the award screening with no assistants or managers or studio handlers; he was met in the theater's bar by a lone publicist.

"I have a perfectly good car," Garcia said. "You certainly don't need an entourage." He said he is laboring to keep costs down in part because he personally recruited some of the film's backers. "A lot of the equity investors on the movie are people I specifically called," Garcia added.

What Garcia and Anchor Bay need is for award voters to see the movie so that they might understand why "City Island" was such a word-of-mouth sensation. "A day does not go by that someone doesn't come up to me on the street and say, 'I love " City Island." That was my favorite movie of the year,'" Garcia said. "If people see the movie, it will speak for itself."

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