Close-Up: Selling Brokeback Mountain
Question and Answer with Focus Features’ Distribution Chief Jack Foley
By Scott Holleran
Scott Holleran: Please describe the fundamental Focus Features philosophy and approach for releasing a movie.
Jack Foley: Each movie is unique. You have to look and see what the film is: Is it a good film? A bad film? There’s no formula—you have to mate the film to its demographic. I don’t care about what other people do anyway. [We ask:] What is the best way to take this specific movie and position it in the marketplace with publicity, marketing and distribution to gain the greatest success? My job is to consider the film in relation to the audience that’s out there in the market across America and to think who the audience is and where they are—how often do they go to the movies, and when do they go? Then I put a plan together. We look at that and then everyone adapts spending on trailers and one-sheets and publicity. You have to judge, think, plan, strategize, move. Look at what we did with The Constant Gardener—we opened it on Labor Day, which everyone said was wrong. That was exactly how the experience on City of God worked. Look at the similarity between the rollout on Brokeback Mountain and Far from Heaven. That was a gay film, too, but the rollout was different. They’re not the same film. You have to be as realistic as best you can in assessing the film’s artistic capability. With Brokeback Mountain, you have to think about how to play it to its strengths. The plan was always to be at 300 theaters by the end of January. We positioned the film carefully.
Scott Holleran: When did you first see Brokeback Mountain?
Jack Foley: A year ago in November. I believed in it right away. I’m a very emotional person. The only other movie that floored me like this movie was The English Patient. My definition of a great film is [that it speaks for itself like] when I saw Back to the Future and I didn’t have to explain it to anyone—that’s what this movie is—it touches you in these ways that move you.
Scott Holleran: How is it performing?
Jack Foley: Superbly. That whole rollout process was designed to establish more momentum. It’s doing phenomenally well. For example, the strategy in Kansas City—and I used to live there—was a very aggressive approach. We took it to Westport, and at the same time we went into affluent Johnson County and we played the Glenwood Fine Arts and AMC’s megaplex in Olathe, Kansas, and it did $35,000 there that weekend and we never came out of there. I deliberately took that approach in Kansas City to perk up the artsy community. I experiment. If it hadn’t worked, I’d have slowed down.
Scott Holleran: Who’s responsible for the Focus release strategy?
Jack Foley: I spent a whole lot of time studying gay markets and making the discussion about the movie less abstract.
Scott Holleran: The paperback short story is being prominently displayed in bookstores and the soundtrack’s being heavily marketed, too. Is that part of the overall sales strategy?
Jack Foley: It really didn’t have any bearing on my distribution strategy. To begin with, this was an Ang Lee film and a gay film. Ang’s got a huge, huge following and, guess what? They showed up. What it does is integrates with the whole process of creating this more popular, culturally accessible movie. We’re taking this from an elite film to something that’s more penetrating to people who go to see King Kong and [The Chronicles of] Narnia—and there may still be people who are not ready for this film.
Scott Holleran: Are you concerned about a Hollywood backlash?
Jack Foley: I think everyone is always concerned about that. You just hope that kind of mood swing really doesn’t happen. But the reality is that this film is everything Hollywood is about. This is a popular picture driving people into theaters overcoming what everyone irrationally thought it would be trapped by—isn’t that what Hollywood’s all about?
Scott Holleran: What is the cause of its success?
Jack Foley: It’s about the human condition. This is not some fabricated art piece—this is a really intelligent story that has something to say about the human condition in an honest way.
This article originally appeared on Box Office Mojo on January 18, 2006.