Natalie Portman as Emilia and Charlie Tahan as William in the movie "The… (Barry Wetcher / IFC Films )
A project with a young star at the peak of media attention, a well-regarded director and source material of class and pedigree are all components of a traditional indie film success story. "The Other Woman," starring Natalie Portman, has been available on video on demand since Jan. 1 and will be released theatrically in Los Angeles on Feb. 4 — coming to audiences in an untraditional way that is fast becoming more commonplace.
In just a few weeks on VOD, the film had a number of viewers that would have made it more than $1 million in theatrical ticket sales. "It is just performing phenomenally well," said Jonathan Sehring, president of IFC Films, the film's distributor.
IFC Films — a leading company along with its sister labels Sundance Selects and IFC Midnight in making little-seen foreign and independent titles available on VOD — has used the pre-theatrical VOD model only a few times before. Magnolia Pictures, which has more experience with pre-theatrical VOD, recently saw its film "All Good Things," a crime drama starring Kirsten Dunst and Ryan Gosling, reportedly do very well on VOD before its theatrical release.
Despite declaring himself a "newbie" to the world of pre-theatrical video-on-demand releases, Marc Platt, a producer on "The Other Woman," has been open to the idea for a project like the small, tough drama. "The film business is in such a heightened state of evolution, and nobody quite knows where it's going to come out," said Platt, whose previous projects include "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," "Wanted" and "Rachel Getting Married," as well as the upcoming "Drive."
Directed and adapted by filmmaker Don Roos, "The Other Woman" premiered at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival under the title of the Ayelet Waldman novel on which it was based, "Love and Other Impossible Pursuits." (The title change was partly to avoid confusion with the recent Anne Hathaway-Jake Gyllenhaal dramedy "Love & Other Drugs.") IFC made an offer out of Toronto but did not actually acquire the film until sometime later.
The story features Portman as a young lawyer who begins an affair with a married older lawyer (Scott Cohen) at her firm. When he leaves his wife (Lisa Kudrow) to marry Portman's character, there is tension in what the shape of their new family dynamic will be, as the former couple tussle over how to handle custody of their young son. Adding to the tension of transitioning from being the other woman to the second wife, Portman's character is wracked with grief after the loss of her own newborn child.
The movie was shot in late 2008 and early 2009 and can be seen in retrospect as another step in Portman's journey to being a fully formed adult star. A tough, emotionally demanding role in which her character is at times inscrutable, angry and wounded, the part now seems like a piece of the developmental process in getting to Portman's performance in "Black Swan."
"The character was a rigorous challenge, carrying around that kind of burden of loss," said Platt, "and isn't always likeable. And it was also just a more mature character than she'd had the opportunity to play before, just in terms of life experiences and the stakes that character is dealing with. I'd think it was an interesting step, and of course it was made before 'Black Swan.'"
Sehring noted that popularity on VOD is often driven by star recognition or the promise of sex or controversy, as with the successful IFC VOD titles "The Killer Inside Me" and "The Human Centipede." With the intense attention for Portman's performance in "Black Swan" and that film's becoming a cultural conversation piece, the timing for "The Other Woman" finally seemed right.
"We were absolutely the beneficiary of her performance and the accolades, justifiably so, for 'Black Swan' — that's what we were holding out for," Sehring said. "We were aware of 'Black Swan,' and when people saw it, we thought this was the perfect way to take advantage of the notoriety Natalie was going to get for that, as well as how good she is in 'The Other Woman.'"
"The Other Woman" is the first film produced by Platt to premiere on VOD ahead of its theatrical release. He noted that the emerging distribution platform so far seems to have none of the negative connotations associated with the more traditional notion of "straight to video."
"It doesn't seem to have any kind of branding that's negative," said Platt. "'Straight to video' is already kind of an outdated term. VOD has a different cache, it doesn't have a stigma. In the same way television has elevated itself in the last 20 years, I think as more projects go to VOD it is a meaningful and viable form of distribution. As a producer it's obviously not what I'd want for every film because I believe there's still something in the collective experience for a lot of films, watching it in the theater, that's significant. I don't think that will ever disappear."
IFC's Sehring added that the company is planning on handling the upcoming "Peep World," an acquisition at last fall's Toronto International Film Festival starring Michael C. Hall and Sarah Silverman, with a pre-theatrical VOD release as well.
"We're really targeted on getting the widest audience possible and the most people possible to see the movies we release," Sehring said. "And to make sure these movies are seen on any platform regardless of whether it's theatrical or television or on-demand or on a tablet or on your computer or on a DVD. We just want to make sure consumers can see these movies and that filmmakers can connect."