AwesomenessTV has a hit on its hands in high school comedy “Expelled,” starring YouTube and Vine celeb Cameron Dallas — a case study in how to make money from younger consumers with movies.
The film, which received a limited run in theaters on Dec. 12 before being sold as a download on most digital platforms, debuted at No. 1 on many of the services, including Apple’s iTunes store, as a Digital HD title after its first day of release.
It’s tough to compare how “Expelled” is performing vs. other Digital HD releases since most online retailers don’t release specific sales figures. However, the No. 1 slot on iTunes is often reached only by films that have earned more than $80 million at the box office.
On iTunes, “Expelled” jumped from No. 52 on its launch day to No. 1, with fans and the cast cheering its ascension on Twitter.
After reaching the top spot on iTunes on Tuesday, “Expelled” fell to “The Equalizer” on Wednesday but was still outpacing “The Maze Runner” (another youth-skewing title), “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “This Is Where I Leave You” in the top five.
Alex Goyette wrote, directes and produced “Expelled,” essentially a “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” for the digital demo that follows a prankster, played by Dallas, who’s expelled from his high school after one stunt too many, and the antics he employs to keep it a secret from his parents.
The comedy also features a cast of other notable YouTube and Vine stars like Andrea Russett, Lia Marie Johnson, Marcus Johns, Michelle Glavan and Teala Dunn, as well as Matt Shively (Nickelodeon’s “True Jackson, VP”).
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment handled the digital distribution of “Expelled,” an 85-minute film that’s rated PG-13. The studio is selling the film for $9.99 on iTunes, Google Play, Comcast, Amazon Instant Video, Target Ticket and Walmart’s Vudu. The film’s website also is making “Expelled” available for purchase.
The title will be released on cable-based VOD services on Dec. 30.
So far, it looks like Cameron’s fanbase — he has 6.1 million followers on Vine and 2.8 million on YouTube — is turning out.
The same is true for his co-stars.
Russett has 1.8 million followers on YouTube, 2.1 million on Instagram, and 1.5 million on Twitter, while Johnson has 1.4 million followers on YouTube.
“Expelled” already has 5,578 reviews — all five stars — on iTunes. “Equalizer” has 123.
What helped was that Dallas launched multiple Twitter hashtag campaigns, including #ExpelledMovieToNumberOne — which wound up trending worldwide on Twitter on its release date. The movie is the first from AwesomenessTV Films, which considered it a test to see whether the company could turn its online talent into bonafide film stars through longer, more scripted productions, rather than the shortform videos in which they currently appear.
AwesomenessTV also clearly sees features as another way to generate revenue through partnerships (Coca-Cola sponsored the film) and merchandise (T-shirts and other products are sold on the film’s website).
The successful digital release of “Expelled” is a “reflection of the ever-changing marketplace, with fans who want to own their favorite movies and enjoy them on their terms,” said Brian Robbins, founder of AwesomenessTV.
Similarly, Fox, which distributes DreamWorks Animation’s films, sees the release of “Expelled” as ushering in a new business model with DWA’s AwesomenessTV, and as an opportunity to reach out to younger moviegoers — and consumers — in a new way.
That’s because the project micro-targeted the often fickle teen audience with a script and social-media stars who also used social platforms as an awareness builder.
“Every aspect of this project has been unique, including the casting, the distribution window sequence and the sophisticated use of social media,” said Mike Dunn, president, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. “The target audience for ‘Expelled’ is innately digital. They consume and communicate digitally.”
Given the film’s success, Fox is now considering releasing “Expelled” to non-English-speaking markets overseas in 2015. The film had been released only in English-speaking territories.
Fox has pushed hard to make Digital HD popular with younger audiences, and “Expelled” could help it build the brand further and encourage the demo to purchase more films via digital platforms.
The success of “Expelled” bodes well for another film from AwesomenessTV Films, that will feature Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla, behind the massively popular SMOSH YouTube channel, which boasts more than 30 million subscribers. Lionsgate will release “The SMOSH Movie” sometime in 2015.