This article was updated at 7:53 p.m.
Michael Moore took the unusual step of hosting a Sunday morning conference call to trumpet the $100 million milestone crossed by “Fahrenheit 9/11.”
As the dozen or so journos checked in to the call, he helpfully suggested, “While we’re waiting, can everyone please sing their favorite Linda Ronstadt song?”
While “Fahrenheit” is the first doc ever to cross this threshold, Moore also used the occasion to thump the underperforming slate at Walt Disney Co., which blocked subsidiary Miramax from distributing the scathing critique of President Bush.
Asked if he was surprised by the doc’s box office results, Moore responded, “If you had told me when we were going through all the pre-distribution problems with Disney that this film would gross more than any other Disney film this year, I don’t even know how to respond to that.”
According to the Associated Press, Disney chief Michael Eisner gave the pic a favorable review during an Aspen business conference last week — “I thought it was like going to a rock concert. I loved it, but not in a political (sense),” Eisner said — Moore added, “I’m glad Mr. Eisner has said he liked the film, but I would think that his stockholders might wonder what his fiduciary responsibilities are to them at this point.”
Disney reps had no immediate response to Moore’s comments.
Ultimately, Miramax toppers Bob and Harvey Weinstein acquired “Fahrenheit” rights from Disney and set up single-purpose company Fellowship Adventure Group with Moore. Lions Gate and IFC Films are distributing the pic in the U.S.
Produced for just $6 million and a P&A cost estimated at less than $15 million, “Fahrenheit” is already one of the most profitable films of its time. Given the convoluted deal structure behind “Fahrenheit,” it’s unclear who will get that money.
Moore acknowledged he is a profit participant, but declined to say how big his cut will be, quipping at one point, “I don’t read the contracts.” (He later went out of his way to make it clear that he was only kidding about that.)
As owners of the film, the Weinsteins ordinarily would stand to reap the lion’s share of profits. But the buyback from Disney stipulates that nearly 60% of the film’s net profits will go back to the Mouse House, which has pledged to donate any “Fahrenheit” profit to charity.
Distribs Lions Gate and IFC are working for a percentage of the box office proceeds, thought to be in the neighborhood of 15%.
Moore also backed away slightly from his earlier intention to release “Fahrenheit” on DVD in time for the election. Sony’s homevid unit is close to a distrib deal (Daily Variety, July 7), but Moore said Sunday that Lions Gate and IFC now say they envision playing the movie “through the end of the year and possibly into the next year,” suggesting a DVD won’t be released until after the pic finishes its theatrical run.
“I don’t honestly know what’s going to happen,” Moore said.
That new scenario would keep “Fahrenheit” in theaters into awards season; the film is likely to be a contender for the documentary Oscar (or, as some optimistic partisans have suggested, best picture). The Weinsteins then could choose to release the DVD timed to the pic’s awards campaign.
While delaying the release of the “Fahrenheit” DVD could hurt the timeliness of the doc, especially if Bush loses the election, it also would sidestep Federal Election Commission regulations that would hamper the marketing of a DVD. Though the FEC has yet to rule definitively on the issue, campaign finance rules likely prohibit mentioning or showing Bush in any broadcast ads for “Fahrenheit” in advance of the election. Restrictions are lifted after the Nov. 2 vote.
Moore will be traveling to the Democratic National Convention in Boston this week to receive an award from the Congressional Black Caucus and speak at a rally.
Several polls have consistently found that it is overwhelmingly Democrats who are flocking to cinemas for “Fahrenheit.” Of the possible political impact of the film, Moore said, “Part of the problem Democrats have had in the past is energizing their base. I believe this film will bring hundreds of thousands of people to the polls who don’t vote and wouldn’t vote in this election.”