Why ‘Boyhood’ is a different story on the Oscar front for IFC Films

07.28.14 2 years ago 20 Comments

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Richard Linklater's “Boyhood” added more screens this weekend and currently finds itself in 107 theaters nationwide. With a per-screen average of around $16,000, the weekend gross was north of $1.7 million, bringing the overall tally to over $4.1 million to date. As it continues to find its audience, the film is obviously a long play for IFC Films, and the prospect of awards recognition lurks, as ever, just over the horizon.

Can “Boyhood” be a significant player in the Oscar season for a company that has never really made awards a part of its overall business model? Better yet, if the answer is yes, could it become a significant threat in a season that may well end up a lackluster one when all is said and done? There are a lot of possibilities here, and plenty of questions, for what is easily one of the most unique films in the 2014 marketplace.

I hopped on the phone this morning with two of the film's producers, Jonathan Sehring (also IFC Films President) and John Sloss to discuss that and other finer points. They make for a dryly witty and fun pair who have worked together for many years and obviously share a passion for this project. At the end of the day, “Boyhood” looks like it will be a very different story for all involved, and ultimately, that's something unquantifiable in an Oscar race.

Read through the back and forth below.

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HitFix: First and foremost congratulations on the film. It's a special piece of work.

Jonathan Sehring: Thank you. We're obviously thrilled with the response. It's something that we're very proud of, we're very bullish about, and we're just thrilled with the ways audiences are responding.

Yeah, how do you feel about the roll-out so far?

John Sloss: Personally, I think the roll-out has been brilliantly managed. Hats off to our friends at IFC. We thought about it very meticulously and I think it's played out exactly the way we had hoped.

When and why was it decided that this would be a summer release? Why not, say, in the prestige months of the fall?

Sehring: John, you can, of course, contradict everything I'm going to say, which you can anticipate. We decided coming out of Berlin and Sundance. And this is as much a partnership as it is one company doing something. We've been partners in this for the past 12, 13 years. It was a decision where we felt that we had a great summer movie that we thought would play well into the fall and that it is something so unique and that audiences would just continue to build. John can speak to this, but we're seeing that just in our expansion week to week in how we're holding, and even our Sunday numbers, there's barely a drop-off. We're playing extremely well in multiplexes and out of the park in art houses.

Sloss: One of the things that our research showed early on – and it was counter-intuitive to us, because of the nature of this movie – is that this film plays huge to people under 25. And it is really hard to get to people under 25, the conventional wisdom says, without spending $30-40 million, which we knew we wouldn't have and wouldn't be wise for the movie. So the feeling is how do you get to these people without that kind of carpet bombing, and the answer that kept coming back is if you have a word-of-mouth film, you stick in theaters long enough so that in the sixth and seventh week, they start to show up. That has been our strategy and all indications are that it's moving in that direction.

I've seen the $200,000 a year figure noted elsewhere, but I'm curious where the budget on this ended up when all was said and done.

Sehring: The $200,000 a year was a figure, that really was year one thing, John, if I recall correctly.

Sloss: Yeah, I think it went down every year! [Laughs.]

Sehring: It varied year to year – it was never below that, trust me.

Sloss: [Laughs.]

Sehring: But that was just the shoot. Post and music and everything else, uh…

Sloss: We can say what it is, can't we?

Sehring: Well, you can. I'm a distributor.

Sloss: OK, yeah, it was close to $4 million at the end of the day. But some of it was spent 12 years ago, so if you factor in the time value of money…

And you just went over $4.1 million this weekend, so that's great news.

Sehring: And then based on box office bumps and things like that, we're going to end up between four and a half and five. But it's still a bargain at any price, Kris, because are we ever going to see anything like this again? Probably not in my lifetime.

Mr. Sloss, you've had a front row seat to Richard Linklater's career since the very beginning, going all the way back to 1991's “Slacker.” In your observation, how would you say he's grown as a filmmaker in that time?

Sloss: That's an interesting question. I try to think about how he would answer that, because he gets asked that a lot about the 12-year project. It's like, “Has your filmmaking grown from the first year to the last?” And he says, “No. Intentionally it hasn't.” He wanted to make an integrated whole.

Sehring: And he always gets a laugh when he says that, too.

Sloss: Yeah. I mean, Rick had $23,000 when he made “Slacker.” If you watch “Slacker” now, it is shocking how well it holds up as a piece of entertainment. He's a natural-born storyteller. He is not a person who has relied on sort of visual cinematic flair, although he's a very competent visual filmmaker. And I've always said he's a guy who is sort of hard-wired into human truth. And that has been the case since “Slacker.” It's been the case on his films that really blow up, like “School of Rock,” and films that maybe weren't so successful. I think he's been a remarkably consistent filmmaker. He may have grown as an artist just from experience, but I think his genius was there all along. And I actually don't hesitate to refer to it as genius.

That's interesting, the note that he's been a consistent filmmaker. It sort of makes “Boyhood,” this willfully consistent piece of work drawn out over a decade-plus, a kind of microcosm for his career. Mr. Sehring, you can speak to that question as well since you've been in business with Rick for over a decade now.

Sehring: We worked with Rick on two films before this one, “Tape” and “Waking Life.” To me Rick is a great filmmaker and a great storyteller and has been exploring a lot of the same themes just in terms of time and individuals. I love all of his movies. I just watched “Waking Life” with my sons – who are, I think, old enough now to get “Waking Life” – just over the weekend. That movie just holds up extremely well. That could have been coming out this year and have found a fresh new audience. I find it hard to comment on how he's grown as a filmmaker. I've always been fascinated by his work.

Sloss: I think what's grown, and hopefully will grow as a result of this, is the public's awareness and appreciation of him.

Sehring: Right. And John will always say this, but I'll second it: Rick is a filmmaker who is long overdue to be recognized by a wider community, either amongst other filmmakers and certainly the general audience. I say that, and meanwhile, you look at things like “School of Rock,” which was a huge hit, and then “Dazed and Confused,” which, I forget the numbers. I've heard either how many DVDs have sold or downloads and streams. It's an insane number.

Well, obviously the awards season is my purview, so I have to ask…

Sehring: I read your Tweet today, Kris!

Sloss: What did it say? I have a day job.

Sehring: I was going to forward it to you and I decided, “No.” [Laughs.]

Sloss: Yeah, you wanted to have the leg up on me.

Sehring: I'll forward it to you now.

Sloss: I'll retweet it! Because I've got followers! [Laughs.]

Well, I think there is a lot of passion for the film out there, but there's also a lingering sentiment that awards have never really been a business focus for IFC.

Sehring: Right.

Some might hold that against the film finding headway with Oscar voters, as this is a world of campaigning where unfortunately films rarely can find their way on their own merits alone. Basically my question is, why should we expect “Boyhood” to be a different story for IFC?

Sehring: I don't want to put the cart before the horse on this, and right now we're definitely focused on making the film work and play through the fall. But we've been doing all the requisite guild screenings and Academy screenings and we're out in front on that. It's definitely a movie that is extraordinary and is unique and obviously merits a campaign. I want the movie to find its audience first, but we're definitely in it. We're definitely running a campaign. We were involved in “Fahrenheit 9/11” with Harvey [Weinstein]. We were involved with “Transamerica” with Harvey. Obviously, “Blue is the Warmest Color.” We did “Y Tu Mama” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and “In the Loop” and things like that, so we've been nominated. Generally we've not gone for Best Picture and Best Director, but we haven't had the goods in the past. We're part of AMC Networks, which regularly pursues Emmys, and I could comment on this that across the board, our parent company is very, very bullish on the prospects of this film.

Sloss: Can I ask a question?

Sure.

Sloss: What happened in the span of a week?

I can't really say!

Sehring: [Laughs.]

Yeah, I'm just a weird “Oscar blogger” who changed his mind, I guess. No, I just think you look ahead and you say, “OK, what's coming? What's special?” And I think this film just has an aura around it that has maintained. I get the sense that it could find that foothold, because at the end of the day, nothing in the race will be anything like “Boyhood.” I guess it's as simple and plain as that.

Sloss: Yeah. Well, I think that is a sense that is shared.

Sehring: Yes. Across the board, Kris. I loved reading your Tweet. [Laughs.] As I said, this definitely merits a campaign. But we're going to be the David to Goliath out there in terms of money spent, and we know that. We're part of a company that regularly campaigns for awards and the Emmys, and as one of the producers on this movie, I am very, very optimistic about its prospects.

Well, good luck. I won't hesitate to say I'll be pulling for you.

Sehring: We really, really appreciate the fact that you're taking notice and that you're reporting on it.

“Boyhood” is now playing in select theaters. Catch it when it finds its way to a theater near you.

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