If you read Sergio's weekend box office report published on Sunday afternoon, you would've seen his mention of the indie drama "Slamma Jamma," which opened on Friday without much fanfare, and cracked the top 12, earning about $1.7 million.
Occurrences like this one are more common today than maybe ever before - modestly budgeted films that the average American likely isn't familiar with, that get relatively quiet theatrical releases (on several hundred, or even a thousand+ screens), targeting very specific (even niche) audiences, and perform well. Fifteen years ago, films like this would probably be released directly on home video (DVD specifically).
But thanks to ever-evolving distribution strategies and technologies, more and more indies are taking control of how their films find their target audiences. For example, the service deal, which was once considered a last resort for films seeking distribution. But as changes continue to sweep the indie film world, service deals have become an increasingly popular option, one way to ensure the prestige and visibility that only a theatrical release can provide.
Under the service model, producers pay distributors an upfront fee and a percentage of box office - in many cases, that also covers the distributor's outlays for marketing and distribution. The upside is that they retain rights and future profits on the movie; the downside is they take on much greater financial risk.
But new variations on the model are emerging constantly thanks to the flexibility the model provides. One company that's built a business out of offering service deals, is Freestyle Releasing, which has been in business since 2003, and was eventually bought by our friend Mr. Byron Allen (and his Entertainment Studios) for an undisclosed amount, in late 2015.
New outfits built around the same model are popping up. Smaller companies like Variance Films use innovative models that combine self-distribution with select elements of traditional theatrical distribution to allow filmmakers quality theatrical releases for their films.
It's maybe as good a time as we've ever seen in the history of cinema for independent filmmakers and films, when it comes to not only distribution, but also with regards to models of financing, marketing and available technologies that provide you with numerous options that will help ensure your film is made and seen by as many eyeballs as possible. It's still a challenging space for indies, but you have far more options than your predecessors did.
Back to "Slamma Jamma"...
In additional to its memorable title (for better or worse) and sports affiliation (basketball), it's also a faith-based film; and has been noted a number of times on this blog in recent years, there's a lot of money being made within this specific space, reaching mainly Christian conservatives (of all skin colors) with messages they maybe appreciate more than secular audiences. We've seen more and more stars take on material that targets that specific demographic. With the box office success of recent films like "Heaven Is for Real" and "Miracles From Heaven," and TV ratings hits like “The Bible Series,” “Son of God,” and “AD,” it’s probably a very good time for filmmakers/content creators with "faith-based" projects primed for the big or small screen. Hence, more and more similar releases should be expected, both at the studio level and in indie world.
Most of you probably didn't see a single TV ad, or billboard, or even Internet banner ad, nor trailer for "Slamma Jamma" (although we profiled it on this blog earlier this year; but even I - who wrote the piece - forgot that we'd mentioned it). But, again, this is where knowing exactly who your audience is, becomes crucial to the success of your film, because you can target them directly, wherever they live, work and play (on and offline), without spending tons of money on marketing strategies.
Also notice that it wasn't screened for critics, which can be both a positive and a negative for a film. For example, Lionsgate rarely, if ever, screened Tyler Perry's movies for critics - especially his Madea-centric films; but those have been his best performing movies (his highest grossing movies are all Madea-centered). He knows his target audience, and he markets directly to them, via his social media accounts, as well as his personal blog, all of which combine for millions of eyeballs.
According to a spokesperson for producers of "Slamma Jamma" - RiverRain Productions: "We purposefully kept the film away from critics... Most film critics are wonderful, fair people with a real heart, but you have the ones who simply 'mean-spirited'..."
The director Tim Chey adds: "I don't let these guys bother me... We forgive and leave it to God to avenge us. We're changing people's lives and Satan hates our guts."
So there you go.
According to the film's producers, "Slamma Jamma" had one of the highest-rated pre-screenings across the country for a faith-based sports film.
"I have yet to see anyone not cry," says Dale Carroll, the co-producer. "Grown men cry. Athletes cry. It's very impactful. You have to actually see it to understand what I'm talking about."
Stephen A. Smith of ESPN chimed in, saying that the film is comparable to 'Rocky'. "If you liked 'Rocky'... you will love 'Slamma Jamma'."
The film opened on 502 screens nationwide on Friday, March 24, and grossed $1.7 million. The producers don't share what its budget was however, so one can't speculate on how well the film is doing relative to budget. But it's, by far, RiverRain's highest grossing film to date; it's only their 3rd release. No word on whether they plan to expand the film's reach, and if there are plans for an international run.
Director Tim Chey directs 'Slamma Jamma' (from his own script), which follows a former basketball star as he prepares for the national slam dunk competition while finding redemption in himself and in those he loves, after being released from prison, where he served time for a crime he didn't commit.
The film stars Chris Staples, Porter Maberry, Rosemarie Smith-Coleman, Ryan Gunnarson, Alexia Hall, Kelsey Caeser, and Michael Hardy, with appearances by real-life former pro athletes Michael Irvin and Jose Canseco.
Follow the project on Facebook, Twitter, or its official website.
Watch a trailer below: