'Pajamas' gets careful rollout from Miramax

LONDON — At first glance “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” and “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” share an unlikely resemblance.

Both pics are literary adaptations of novels equally beloved by young and adult auds that feature youthful male protagonists forced to confront evil beyond their imagination.

Both pics are also produced by Brit maven David Heyman and both had originally been set for a November release in the U.S.

While the big-budget Harry Potter franchise is firmly entrenched in a fantasy world, however, the $10 million-$15 million “Boy” is a decidedly realistic portrait of the horrors of the Holocaust.

That has left David Heyman and Miramax, who co-produced and are releasing the pic in the U.S., with the challenge of how to market a film that deals with adult themes and contains a devastatingly powerful ending for children.

“It goes without saying that a work of fiction set in the time and place of the Holocaust is contentious, and any writers who tackle such stories had better be sure of their intentions before they begin,” says John Boyne, who wrote the bestselling novel the film is based on.

The pic has become something of a passion project for both Heyman and Miramax topper Daniel Battsek.

Heyman teamed up with helmer Mark Herman, who had optioned the book, to find a partner for the big-screen adaptation.

After Warner Bros., with whom the producer has a first-look deal, passed on the project, Heyman took it to old friend Battsek, who had been a fan of the book ever since being given it to read by his young son. Miramax boarded nearly instantly.

“Producing is about trying to make the best film possible,” Heyman says. “Miramax has been incredibly supportive and never tried to compromise a challenging piece of material.”

The result is a film that has left many critics and auds in stunned silence following its denouement, with most journos respectfully observing the request not to reveal the ending.

The pic has performed strongly in the U.K. since its Sept. 12 release, bringing in $2.5 million in its first two weeks and dropping only 12% in its soph sesh.

While Disney execs in the U.K. were able to release the pic on more than 100 prints due to the built-in awareness and popularity of the book there, in the U.S., where the book is not as well-known, Miramax execs are building their campaign from the ground up ahead of its Nov. 7 bow.

Pic will initially open on 15-25 screens, with Miramax also preeming “Boy” at the Heartland Film Fest in Indianapolis on Oct. 16 and organizing a series of educational outreach screenings and initiatives designed to boost word of mouth.

“We want the film to be embraced by Middle America and not just the usual platform locations in New York and Los Angeles,” Battsek says.

Ironically, Warner Bros.’ decision to bump the release of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” from its Nov. 21 slot to July 17 next year, has now freed up the calendar for “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” when it comes to attracting youthful auds.

“I’m not going to say it’s a light comedy, but it’s a very human story,” Battsek says. “It’s a film for both quality cinemagoing audiences and also for parents to take their children to and talk to them about. I don’t think there’s ever been a Holocaust film with a child protagonist before.”

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