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Friday, December 01, 2006

What to Watch For with 'Ten Items or Less'

The new Morgan Freeman movie, `10 Items or Less,' is the latest experiment in altering the motion picture industry's traditional "release window" structure. The movie opens in Landmark Theatres today, and will be available as an Internet download on December 15th, two weeks later.

Some background: Landmark's highest-profile experiment with release windows took place earlier this year, with Steven Soderbergh's 'Bubble.' The movie didn't do well in theaters, but Landmark co-owner Todd Wagner later told me that it more than covered its production costs in DVD sales, thanks to the copious free publicity the movie received.

`10 Items' is a much more commercial movie (the cast of `Bubble' were not just unknowns -- they were not trained actors). It was made by Brad Silberling, a director whose last movie, `Lemony Snicket,' was a fairly big hit. Still, most theater chains have refused to show it, since it'll be available on the Net so soon. In return for agreeing to show it, Landmark will earn a share of the download revenues, producer Lori McCreary said in October.

`10 Items' was made for less than $10 million, and filmed in three weeks. ThinkFilm is handling the theatrical distribution. It's unclear who has DVD rights...or when the DVD will be out. Here's an LA Times piece on the business arrangements behind '10 Items.'

What to Watch For:

1. First, the reviews. So far, they ain't bad.

2. Second, the per-screen averages. `10 Items' won't be a box office champ this weekend, but it'll be interesting to see how full those Landmark auditoriums are.

3. Whether Morgan Freeman or Paz Vega do much promotion for the movie (i.e., talk shows), and when they do, whether they mention the Internet availability or not. (So far, the newspaper ads I've seen don't mention it.)

4. Whether ClickStar, the new company that will be handling the digital download, starts getting more buzz in the next two weeks. The site still seems unbuilt, and I think to cultivate the support of the blogosphere, it'd be a smart idea to put up lots of free content on the site -- an extended five or ten-minute segment of the film, some behind-the-scenes footage, an interview with one of the stars -- that bloggers can either link to or embed in their sites.