In an unusual move to build word of mouth for a film that's not aimed at critics or awards voters, Universal Pictures will open the a cappella singing comedy "Pitch Perfect" in limited release Sept. 28, ahead of a previously planned nationwide debut Oct. 5.
Such "platform releases" are typically used for prestige independent films like "The Artist" or "Moonrise Kingdom," which start off in major cities and use positive reviews to springboard into nationwide distribution.
For mainstream commercial films, studios typically rely on advertising to get audiences excited and then open a picture simultaneously in more than 2,000 locations across the country.
But Universal recently concluded that it would be difficult to use traditional marketing to get a broad audience excited about a comedy set in the world of competitive college singing, whose biggest star is Anna Kendrick ("Up in the Air," "50/50").
As a result, it made the last-minute switch in its release plans.
"On its surface this looks like a movie that could be dismissable to many people, but we know it's super-playable to a wide audience," Universal marketing co-President Michael Moses said. "We're trying to engineer it so a core audience can get excited and help us tell the world about it before the wide break."
"Pitch Perfect" will open in more than 325 theaters in 125 cities on Sept. 28 before expanding to thousands of theaters the next week. That's wide enough that most people excited to see the picture can find it within driving distance during the first week, but not so widespread that it will be in most multiplexes.
Platform releases carry risk because if early audiences don't like what they see, bad word of mouth can tank the picture before it has a chance to play at most locations.
But Universal has already held about 400 word-of-mouth screenings at cheerleading camps, arts camps, college campuses and other locations. The studio believes that confident buzz will be strong.
In particular, Universal executives believe that men or older women who aren't drawn to the premise will like the movie and are more likely to come out if they hear good things about it.
"The experience is similar to 'Bridesmaids.' On the surface it looked like it was not for guys, but if they went, they liked it," Moses said.
Studios sometimes engage in "sneak previews" to try to build buzz for similar purposes. In those cases, however, the movie typically plays for just one screening, while "Pitch Perfect" will be available for the entire weekend in limited release.
Universal co-financed "Pitch Perfect" with Gold Circle Films for about $17 million.
The film was promoted Thursday night at the MTV Video Music Awards with the clip embedded above.
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