The Hateful Eight (Tarantino, 2015) is the new film by Quentin Tarantino that is currently on general release in the United Kingdom. In an era dominated by digital filmmaking and digital cinema projection Tarantino and the Weinstein Company elected to release The Hateful Eight in one hundred theatres in North America in retrofitted theatres in order for it to be projected in 70mm film, the way Tarantino intended (Kenigsberg, 2015). In the UK however, only one cinema venue acquired the exclusive distribution rights from The Hateful Eight’s UK distributor Entertainment Film Distributors to screen the 70mm print of The Hateful Eight which was the Odeon Leicester Square.
I chose to analyse this film’s release strategy due to its unique distribution method, especially the fact that the Weinstein Company elected to use the fact that the film was shot and will be projected in 70mm in select theatres as a way of marketing a unique selling point of the film to audiences. The fact that it wasn’t a wide release of 70mm (this would be impossible today due to the every cinema projecting films digitally) and instead only select theatres would be screening the 70mm print of the film with additional footage added a sense of exclusivity to the release of the film. It was like a calling for cinephiles and film buffs to spend their money to travel to these select theatres to witness the film in its purest form. Tarantino himself feels that films nowadays fail to give audiences a good enough reason to leave their house and go to the cinema, that people are content to stay at home and watch films when they come out on cable channels, streaming services or on home video (The Hollywood Reporter, 2016). This ties in neatly with Tarantino’s desire to emulate the roadshow events that were prevalent in Hollywood cinema during the 1950s and 60s (Movieclips Coming Soon, 2015) which made going to the cinema feel like a big event due to the intermissions and overtures and film programmes that going to a screening would provide. Putting on an event like this in today’s climate of the film industry would be a unique cinema going experience which would entice audiences to visit the roadshow screenings of The Hateful Eight to get an experience they could never experience at home.
British director Christopher Nolan expressed the same sentiment at a debate at the BFI Southbank (Rosser, 2015) in which he laments at the fact that cinema exhibitors are not putting on a show for their audiences, that cinema going has become reduced to just sitting in an empty room with a large television to watch a film. Perhaps this is why Tarantino and the Weinstein Company opted to do something different this time around in regards to a cinema release. Quentin Tarantino and his films are considered a distinctive brand in their own right as film enthusiasts will always flock to see a Tarantino film, so by utilising his name as a cinematic brand, the Weinstein Company felt confident enough to market the release of The Hateful Eight with it being screened in select theatres with a 70mm print to promote the exclusivity of the film’s potential appeal.
So with the film currently out on general release, did its release with a 70mm print make a difference in to how audiences respond to cinema going? Some audiences expressed amazement at the stark contrast in the quality of the image in comparison to digital projection and that seeing the film in its 70mm print is worth it (Eisenberg, 2015), however some fans had bad experiences viewing the film in its 70mm projection with issues ranging from sound syncing to the focus of the image (McNary 2015). Considering that virtually all commercial cinemas now use digital projection to screen films, the required technical expertise to operate an old fashioned film projector has become an obsolete skillset which is undoubtedly what led to bad projections of The Hateful Eight.
Some however feel that it is worth the risk seeing the film in its 70mm print due to the difference in the quality of the projected image on screen. With the film being heavily marketed as being shot in 65mm with Ultra Panavision lenses (lenses that haven’t been used since Ben-Hur (Wyler 1959)), this would paint the picture that this film is something that needs to be experienced in the 70mm format. However if movie theatres do a bad job projecting the film then does that hinder the Weinstein Company’s marketing strategy for the film? Its unique selling point, that it is filmed with Ultra Panavision lenses and that a roadshow version of the film will be projected in 70mm in select theatres, becomes marred with uncertainty amongst film audiences as undoubtedly they would read online and on social media that some of the select theatres it is being projected on have faced technical difficulties, putting people off seeing the roadshow version and opting for the standard digital projection in their nearest theatre.
So if releasing a film in 70mm is such a risk, why would a distribution company risk it at all? Even back in the heyday of celluloid, releasing a film in 70mm wasn’t cost effective as 70mm prints were expensive to process and installing the right equipment into theatres to project the film was far from cheap also, so most films were shot and released in standard 35mm with 70mm films getting only a limited release. In the digital film era, this is even more apparent with only a handful of films in the last ten years being given a limited release in select theatres in 70mm; among those films being The Master (Anderson, 2012), Inherent Vice (Anderson, 2014) and Interstellar (Nolan, 2014) with the last wide release of 70mm comparable to the scale of The Hateful Eight was Far and Away (Howard, 1992) over twenty years ago. Some would argue that distribution companies elect to release films this way as it’s a way to market their films with a unique selling point, getting audiences to come to cinema and spend their money to watch a film with a different experience, similar to how major studios release and market their blockbusters films as being released in IMAX or in 3D; to give audiences a sense that they can’t view a film the same way at home the way they do in the cinema. However, some will argue that it’s just a way for older generation filmmakers to hold onto to the dying format of cinema that is celluloid and that they are forcing the old way of cinema onto a new generation of filmgoers. However, I would be inclined to think that the former reason is why distribution companies opt to release some of their films in 70mm. The film industry at the end of the day is a business and studios want to make money, so I feel that they would not make an unnecessary risk without being confident that they could profit from them. In the case with The Hateful Eight, I imagine the Weinstein Company were banking heavily on Tarantino’s brand image as a prolific and popular filmmaker to entice people to see the film.
That being said, did The Hateful Eight deliver the box office returns that the Weinstein Company had hoped it would? The general rule of thumb in the film industry is that a film needs to earn back at least twice the amount of its production budget at the box office in order to break even (SinCityFinancier, 2013). Since The Hateful Eight is still currently having it’s theatrical run, it’s hard to determine whether or not the film is going to lose money or not. However, compared to Tarantino’s previous film, Django Unchained (Tarantino, 2012), The Hateful Eight had a less impressive opening weekend, earning only $15.7 million compared to Django Unchained’s $30 million opening weekend numbers (Lee, 2016); in the same article, Harvey Weinstein, one of the executive producers behind The Hateful Eight has commented that it was a bad idea financially to give The Hateful Eight a Christmas release as it coincided with the release of Stars Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (Abrams, 2015) which was widely hyped to be the biggest movie of the year. Another example of a film earning less than what was expected at the box office during 2015 was Steve Jobs (Boyle, 2015) which underperformed at the box office due to the competition from other films marketed for adult audiences (Lang, 2015). Films that competed along with Steve Jobs in the US were Bridge of Spies (Spielberg, 2015), Black Mass (Cooper, 2015) and Room (Abrahamson, 2015). This goes to show that the release date of a film could heavily influence a film’s box office earnings as the current competition that is currently out could hinder a lesser known or relatively low key film’s chance of doing well.
Another factor that could have hurt The Hateful Eight’s box office returns in the UK specifically was the whole controversy surrounding the exclusion of The Hateful Eight from key UK cinema chains such as Cineworld, Curzon and Picturehouse Cinemas (Lee, 2016). This was due to Odeon having exclusive rights to screen the 70mm print roadshow version in their largest venue, Odeon Leicester Square in the West End. Cineworld reportedly wanted to screen the roadshow version at their Picturehouse Central venue that is also located in the West End, (Picturehouse Cinemas being owned by Cineworld) however The Hateful Eight’s distributors preferred the much larger venue of Odeon Leicester Square which has a screen that can seat over a thousand. This could be an instance where the marketed exclusivity of the roadshow version could in the long run hurt The Hateful Eight’s box office chances as cinema goers may not want to travel all the way to the West End to watch the roadshow version, especially film fans who do not live in London. But then again, the Weinstein Company have already retrofitted one hundred cinema venues in North America to screen the roadshow version, which was reported to be an expensive endeavour costing on average between $60,000 and $80,000 per theatre (McKnight, 2015). Therefore it perhaps would have ballooned the Weinstein Company’s costs to retrofit a similar amount of venues in the UK.
In conclusion, The Hateful Eight offered cinema goers a unique experience to watch a film in an era that is dominated by IMAX, 3D and online streaming. Whilst watching a film in IMAX and in 3D is a unique experience in itself in that sense that it cannot be replicated at home to its fullest effect, more so can be said of celluloid film projection. Tarantino and the Weinstein Company offered audiences something different and unique in order to enrich the cinema experience, but are releases like this the future of cinema? Will more auteurs like Tarantino lobby their distribution companies for relatively wide releases of their films? The answer is likely no, due to the cost it would require for theatres to retrofit their equipment, compounded with the fact that Hollywood movies rarely turn in a profit anyway due to exorbitant marketing and advertising costs on top of a film’s production cost (BoxOfficeFlops, 2015), the practice seems unlikely to become a trend. Perhaps filmmakers and film distributors would need to find another way of offering audiences a unique experience at the cinema in order to entice them to attend, one that is financially viable.
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Ben-Hur, 1959 [Film] Directed by William Wyler. United States. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
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The Hateful Eight, 2015 [Film] Directed by Quentin Tarantino. United States. The Weinstein Company.
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McNary, D. 2015 ‘Hateful Eight’ 70mm Projection Issues ‘Rare and Far Between,’ Weinstein Company says. Available at: http://variety.com/2015/film/news/hateful-eight-70mm-projection-problems-1201668461/ (Accessed 12 January 16)
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