The Austin Chronicle

Short Cuts

By Marjorie Baumgarten, July 23, 1999, Screens

What do The Blair Witch Project and sex, lies and videotape have in common? Both films will prove to be landmarks in the changing landscape of independent film exhibition. In 1989 Steven Soderbergh's sex, lies was one of the first films to prove that a modestly budgeted movie that was picked up for a song and carefully distributed could return an enormous profit. It helped establish the dominance of Miramax as the powerhouse of indie distributors. Grosses of $25-30 million on a movie made for little over $1 million made every level of the industry stand up and take notice. Now, it's the Blair Witch's turn. The movie opened up on July 16 in 27 theatres across the country. Austin's Landmark Dobie Theatre was one of these, where it was showcased on a total of three screens. After the opening weekend, the film (which, according to the filmmakers, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, was made for about "the average price of a new car" and was picked up by Artisan Pictures for a reported $1 million) grossed more than $1.5 million in its opening weekend. All this also without benefit of star actors or TV and radio advertising. Here in Austin, Dobie's manager Holden Payne reports that 45 of the 48 weekend shows were completely sold out, with no let-up in sight as the week progressed. Variety reported that Blair's opening per-screen average of $57,700 more than doubled that of Steven Spielberg's 1993 Oscar winner Schindler's List, which opened in 25 theatres for a gross of $657,000 and a $26,265 average. Especially encouraging was that Blair performed outstandingly well in suburban megaplexes. In fact, the returns from megaplexes in Orange, California, and Tempe, Arizona, were the highest of any of the 27 opening cities, outperforming the arthouses and speciality screens. The Blair Witch Project expands into 700-800 theatres on July 30, accompanied by an extensive TV and radio ad campaign, and the numbers at that point are expected to eventually reach at least $30 million. All this bodes well for the future of indie filmmaking. Make it profitable and the industry will beat a path to your door. The only thing that everyone tends to forget is that examples such as The Blair Witch Project, and sex, lies and videotape are the extreme exceptions. The film business is a tough way to make a fortune. For an interview with the Blair Witch filmmakers, see last week's Chronicle online at ...

Cinemaker Co-op will hold a Super-8 workshop open to the public on Sat., July 24, 9am-1pm. The workshop provides an introduction to the world of lo-fi filmmaking and is geared toward beginners. Topics discussed include camera functions, artificial lighting, in-camera editing and other options, Super-8 stocks, equipment, and narrative vs. conceptual filmmaking. The workshop will take place at the Cinemaker office in the Artplex (1705 Guadalupe, Suite 201). The fee is $45 for Co-op members and $65 for nonmembers. For more info send e-mail to Richard McIntosh at or call 236-8877 (leave a message for McIntosh if he's not in)...

Women of all ethnicities and races, ages 30s-50s, are sought to audition for a short film shooting this fall by a women's collective film project. Auditions will be held Sat., July 24, 1-6pm, in Communications Building B, Studio 4B on the UT campus; call 448-9776 or 474-4910 for more info.

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