‘Addicted’: How Lionsgate and CodeBlack Created a Low Budget, Micro-Targeted Hit

'Addicted': How Lionsgate and CodeBlack Created
Lionsgate/CodeBlack

Addicted” hooked audiences this weekend with a social media astute and low cost approach to movie distribution that shows you don’t have to spend more to make more.

The erotic drama about a woman who strays from the marital bed opened to $7.6 million despite opening in just 846 screens and without the kind of gaudy television marketing that most films rely on in order to draw a crowd.

“It’s an example of how big data and really understanding a marketplace can reduce the amount of unnecessary bookings and spending a film needs,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “They didn’t open in 1,000 theaters and they didn’t need to.”

Credit for the breakout success goes to Lionsgate and its label CodeBlack Entertainment, which has carved out a niche for itself distributing low-budget, African American films such as last year’s “Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain.”

“There’s a real business model here where studios can make profits releasing targeted African-American films,” said CodeBlack founder Jeff Clanagan. “The reality is that with the right number of screens, we’re able to reach our consumers and our fan base rather than spending a ton on P&A.”

Lionsgate has taken a similar approach to Hispanic audiences with its Pantelion Films, which had a major success with 2013’s “Instructions Not Included.” Both divisions recognize that these ethnic groups represent big portions of the total box office pie. Last year, African Americans accounted for 4.3% of frequent moviegoers and Hispanics were 11.6%. Caucasians now make up less than 50% of frequent moviegoers and are underrepresented in comparison to their portion of the population, according to a study by the Motion Picture Association of America.

In the case of “Addicted,” the opening weekend audience was 72% African-American, 15% Latino and 82% female. As “Gone Girl” and “No Good Deed” also proved, female audiences are another demographic that studios ignore at their own peril. They’re even enabling a resurgence in the kind of thrillers that major studios had ignored in favor of comic book movies and big-budget action films.

“Women are fueling an incredible amount of box office right now,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak said. “I’m not surprised. It’s something that should be obvious, but as a group, women have been marginalized while studios chase 18 to 24 year old males.”

To get the word out about “Addicted,” Lionsgate and Codeblack employed a YouTube, Facebook and Twitter-heavy campaign that allowed the partners to maintain a tight grip on costs. Helping with that promotion was the fact that Zane, the author of the book that inspired “Addicted,” has over one million Facebook fans whom she kept in the loop about the film’s release and promotions.

That kind of grassroots effort enabled clips from the film to attract 60 million video views on cellphones and digital platforms. Instead of treating African-American audiences as a monolithic block of ticket-buyers, the film’s backers targeted women between the ages of 25 to 50. To aide in that effort, promotional art featured an aesthetically blessed cast that includes Boris Kodjoe, William Levy and Tyson Beckford.

“By knowing exactly who our audience was we were able to more effectively target African-American and Hispanic audiences,” said David Spitz,  executive vice president of distribution at Lionsgate.

The studio also partnered with Fathom Events for an advance screening of the film followed by a talk with Zane, director Bille Woodruff and the film’s cast. The chat was broadcast live to over 350 theaters and and the film;s backers solicited questions from fans on Twitter, allowing them to once again create social media excitement.

Produced for under $5 million, “Addicted” is almost assured of being profitable when it ends its run. But studios do not invest heavily in African-American films because there is a sense that they do not perform well in foreign countries, which can make up nearly two-thirds of a film’s overall box office. That inspired CodeBlack and Lionsgate to think about “Addicted” in different terms.

“There is an audience here,” said Clanagan. “We’re building a model where we can be profitable with just a domestic release and the international numbers are just gravy.”

It’s a model that applies to more than just African-American and Hispanic films, particularly as the movie business struggles for new methods of being cost efficient and effective.

“It doesn’t have to be you just dump a movie in 2,000 theaters and cross your fingers,” said Contrino. “That’s dying. It’s an outdated way of doing things and its operating under the mistaken assumption that more theaters equals a bigger gross.”

As “Addicted” proves, sometimes less is more.

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  1. James says:

    “Caucasians now make up less than 50% of frequent moviegoers and are underrepresented in comparison to their portion of the population, ”

    Unrepresented how? Certainly not in the amount of pictures aimed at their demographic.

  2. Brenda says:

    Great movie. I met William Levy at a rooftop hotel pool in LA and he was charming. He was fabulous in this movie and I loved all the twists and turns. I am so glad I saw it and hope it does fabulous

  3. Ames thunder says:

    Obviously hav’nt seen ‘the david green project’ yet then. Buzz kill.

  4. Boricua says:

    As a Afro gay Rican man, I went to see this movie for the hot eye candy. (William Levy & Boris Kodjoe) Both these men are drop dead gorgeous. Sheron Leal and Tasha Smith are attractive women. If I were into women, I would asks these gorgeous women out. Tyson Beckford just doesn’t do it for me.

  5. It isn’t that female audience is ignored but studios don’t cater to them properly. Instead of developing good movies focused on believable and relatable female characters, they mostly shoe-horn really lame female characters (mostly of Mary Sue variety and/or warrior superwoman kind that appeals to adolescent boys) and romance in movies with focus on male heroes and think that’s enough.

    Also, enough with the myth that women won’t see movies w/o romance. That’s old plus Twilight created huge backlash against romance and female characters whose only goal in life is to get a guy.

  6. Debrann says:

    I could not wait to see this movie because William Levy was in it. Levy is as HOT as they come on the screen now days, in my opinion. He is a talented actor, who shines on that movie screen. Levy will have the female population melting with his gentle, yet, passionate romantic presence. Thank you for a movie well done.

  7. A.J. says:

    Variety, if you are going to continue re-iterating that there’s a sense African American films don’t do well overseas, as you all have been doing for years whenever you all write about Black indie films, at least back it up with statistics about how other films do overseas (such as indie or niche themed films). How do non-blockbuster films do internationally? Will those numbers influence Hollywood to stop investing or distributing niche films? Probably not. And finally, don’t leave out the issue of racism in Hollywood when discussing why Hollywood is reluctant in Black films.

    • whole-heartedly agree! How is this marketing any different than whats already been happening? Heck Tyler Perry’s been doing this. My issue is there is a whole revenue stream that’s being ignored or blocked in the international markets and black filmmakers are just conceding it without a fight.

  8. ybfmiami says:

    Don’t underestimate the power of ABC’s Scandal, which played a huge part in stirring interest in both the Gone Girl book and the movie. Gone Girl the book was integrated in Scandal’s first new episode this season, while the movie was advertised in commercials. Addicted was also advertised on Scandal. Twitter and tweeting are part of the Scandal watching experience and anything that’s on the show that appears interesting will be discussed among Scandal’s many gladiators.

  9. Estrella says:

    My co-worker and I went to see this movie because WILLIAM LEVY is in it! He did not disappoint!

    • Debrann says:

      I agree with you Estrella. William Levy was wonderful in this movie. I was mesmerized with his passionate presence. Bravo to Levy……and thank you to Levy, as well. :)

  10. BWFLP says:

    When this gets released in the Spanish-speaking markets, both here and abroad, because if William Levy, the money will be as impressive. He is a great actor.

  11. Brittney says:

    They should really pick up the rights to Coldest Winter Ever.

  12. Carly says:

    Uh, Addicted has a huge TV campaign. Huge.

  13. Lynn Fox says:

    Wow! I wanted to see it based on the pretty and raw characters I had seen in the preview. Now I really want to go see it knowing it is green/eco friendly. Hope it is playing in my little town.

  14. LOL says:

    I read Addicted back in the 2000s to see what the hype was about and, not being black or female, to better understand the psychology of African American women. It was an interesting read, though, pretty sloppy.

    Nonetheless, there was a time that H’wood made elevated African American movies like Dead Presidents and Miracle at St. Anna, films with studio backing, high budgets and marketing muscle. One despairs at how hackneyed the movie game is right now.

  15. Addicted says:

    That is William Levy in all the promotional art. He is a major character in the film. “To aide in that effort, promotional art featured an aesthetically blessed cast that includes Boris Kodjoe and Tyson Beckford.”

  16. John says:

    They are also going to sell this movie to countries that have Levy’s telenovelas.

  17. edmkoz says:

    The MPAA study indicated that African Americans were 12% of 2013 US frequent moviegoers, not 4.3%. There were 4.3 million of them.

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