'Addicted': How Lionsgate and CodeBlack Created

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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