Harvard tells Hollywood to ban cigarettes from kids' movies.
Peaceful Warrior was produced by a company called Sobini, which financed it at $14 million plus a bunch more in marketing costs—and it got absolutely clobbered last time out. The picture grossed barely $1 million, which may not be surprising given that it scored a dismal 21 percent on the Rotten Tomatoes critics' meter, with the New York Times calling it "blatantly ludicrous."
The mere fact that the picture went from its death spiral at Lionsgate to re-release at Universal is almost enough to make even hardened doubters believe in New Age healing. It happened because Sobini CEO Mark Amin and the company's president, Cami Winikoff, worked with Universal's marketing chief, Adam Fogelson, some years back. When Amin and Winikoff couldn't figure out how to sell their movie, they turned to their old friend.
Fogelson says he's long been interested in developing ways to release movies that might have potential (and we emphasize might) but don't do well using traditional marketing techniques. Some movies can't be summed up in 30-second spots or pitched on posters, and apparently Peaceful Warrior is one of them. So Fogelson came up with the idea of selling Peaceful Warrior by giving away lots of tickets. The hope is that people will see the movie this weekend and then talk it up. If the movie doesn't catch on at the box office, the chance remains to make money on DVDs.
Sobini agreed to pick up the cost of those free tickets and to pay Universal a distribution fee, so Universal gets to try the experiment for free and maybe even make a buck. Universal recruited Best Buy to offer the free tickets through its Web site.
Since Sobini is picking up the tab once again, it would seem that this may be a case of throwing good money after bad. "We're not lunatics," Winikoff says. "You can either go home or risk a very little bit more [money] … When in Hollywood do movies get a second chance like this?"
There's one more twist that may be worth mentioning: Peaceful Warrior was directed by convicted child molester Victor Salva, who had sex with a 12-year-old boy who performed in one of his earlier films. After confessing in 1988, Salva served 15 months in prison. Some years later, in 1995, the victim picketed theaters when he learned that Salva had directed the Disney movie (yes, Disney movie) Powder.
Winikoff says she and her partner knew nothing of Salva's past when they approached him about directing Peaceful Warrior, but they did learn that Salva had discovered the book while in prison and credited it with changing his life. "I'm not going to lie to you and say it was an easy decision" to hire him, she says. But she adds that the book "is about redemption." (Universal is aware of Salva's past, and according to Winikoff, the same is true of Best Buy.)
Interesting to note that Peaceful Warrior is about a troubled young (male) gymnast and Powder was about another troubled (male) teenager. Of course, unlike certain other directors named Roman Polanski, who drugged and sodomized a 13-year-old before going on the lam, at least Salva did his time. (link)
Kim Masters is an NPR correspondent and the author of The Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everyone Else.
Still from Captivity by AfterDark Films/Lionsgate. All rights reserved.