It takes years to make a movie. It takes less than 48 hours to determine its fate.
If the box office numbers from Friday and Saturday night aren’t impressive, a movie won’t be in theatres the following week.
Samuel L. Jackson’s latest, The Samaritan, opens tonight and if you’re looking for a movie this weekend here’s the scoop on what you should be seeing instead of The Avengers or Battleship. The Samaritan is a modern film noir drawing strong early reviews, including a thumbs up from Roger Ebert. Jackson plays an ex-con trying to go straight, and Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson plays the bad guy determined to make sure he doesn’t.
I emailed co-writer-director, David Weaver, whose previous films include the quirky cool festival favourites Century Hotel and Siblings, to ask what excited him about making a 21st century film noir.
“A prof of mine at film school said once that directors just spend their career remaking the movies they loved when they misspent their youth in darkened theatres. Well, I always loved noir. And where are they now? I’m not necessarily talking about classic noir (although I bow to no one in my appreciation), but to revisionist, Jim Thompson-inspired noir, like The Grifters or The Crying Game. Nobody’s making those movies anymore? Fine. I’ll make them myself.”
Weaver’s other stars include Luke Kirby, Deborah Kara Unger and Gil Bellows — all faces you’ll recognize even if you don’t know their names and all of them Canadian. Yep, The Samaritan is an honest to Telefilm Canadian movie — and it has something few Canadian films do, besides brand name stars like Jackson and Wilkinson . . . it’s actually opening in more than a few tiny art houses and it’s premiering simultaneously in the US which means a bit of actual PR. Not Battleship PR but, hey, a review from Ebert already tops the attention most CanCon films get and a great first weekend would be good news not just for Weaver, but for the Canadian film industry.
“It’s just such a jungle out there, with so many possibilities for your entertainment dollar, as they say. So if audiences don’t show up on the first weekend then the movie is likely to disappear,” he says. “I spend my life frustrated that I didn’t get a chance to see the way they were intended to be seen — on the big screen. And all of this is particularly true for our movie, which is a little bit of a throwback to begin with. After all, don’t you want to see a noir in the theatre? That’s really the only way you can see into the deep, dark shadows.”
Producer Tony Wosk told me, “The opening weekend of any film is incredibly important these days because of a constant fight for a limited number of screens. A film has to perform in that opening weekend to ensure it doesn’t get replaced by another film the following weekend. For an independent film it’s even more important because Hollywood tentpole films often snap up the majority of screens in any market.”
Wosk spent six years on the board of Canada’s First Weekend Club — a group that spreads the word about Canadian film openings in the hopes that a first weekend will lead to a second weekend and a third and . . .
Full disclosure: Wosk produced my first feature film, The Green Chain, and without the help of The First Weekend Club I doubt our film would have played a second week. That’s why I’m aware of the importance of first weekends and such a fan of the First Weekend Club.
And that’s why I’ll give the last word to their executive director Anita Adams, who I contacted for another quote about why seeing The Samaritan this weekend won’t sink Battleship but would be, well, the act of a good Samaritan — not to mention a savvy cinephile. “The first weekend of a film’s release is critical,” says Adams. “The more people that go see a film during those first three days, the more likelihood that film will have an extended run. A film’s future really hinges on the success of that opening weekend, as theatre owners look at the box office results Monday morning and decide which films to keep and which to cut. So if you want to help some great Canadian films stay in theatres longer, go see them opening weekend!”