Sony pits its faith in church-based promo

'Left' pix have generated $100 mil in consumer spending

One of the biggest movie openings this past weekend unspooled on nearly 3,500 screens. But don’t look for the film’s grosses in the usual box office reports.

That’s because the screenings were on DVD in more than 3,000 churches across the country.

“Left Behind: World at War,” starring Lou Gossett Jr., is the third film based on the bestselling series of “Left Behind” books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. The series chronicles the antichrist’s rise to global power after millions mysteriously disappear one day.

The first two “Left Behind” movies, produced and released by Ontario, Canada-based Cloud Ten Pictures, sold a combined 6 million copies, generating nearly $100 million in consumer spending. All three star Kirk Cameron as a TV reporter who secretly tries to undermine the efforts of the antichrist, and the first two bowed on homevid before getting limited theatrical release.

Reversing the precedent, this latest chapter will be released on DVD on Oct. 25, just a couple days after the church screenings.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is providing thousands of copies of the DVD to the churches at a charge paid to Cloud Ten of $70 to $200 each, depending on the size of the venue.

Cloud Ten co-CEO and “World at War” writer/executive producer Peter Lalonde says about two-thirds of the churches are charging a nominal admission fee, which will go to church coffers.

“Our marketing is geared to the DVD release,” says SPHE vp marketing Suzanne White. “We used Peter to do all the marketing in the Christian community. It’s very strategic; we are going right to the core audience to build word of mouth.”

White says Sony will back the release with marketing comparable in size to other DVD premieres but aimed specifically at the Christian retail market. “The money goes a little further with this grassroots type of title.”

Although Lalonde says Sony “took the risk off us,” he says he may look for third-party production funding for future episodes and opt to pay a distributor-for-hire the 16%-18% license fee.

He says Cloud Ten plans to produce and release two more episodes each year.

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