A few nights ago, "City Island" was screened at a mall in Paramus, New Jersey, in what is known as an OTX screening. Basically, an audience is recruited from a shopping mall and asked if they'd like to see a free movie that hasn't been released yet. The victims are asked in return to fill out a questionnaire which asks things like "which parts did you enjoy most", "which did you enjoy least", "tell us your favorite scene" , "tell us your least favorite scene" etc. (The questions aren't these exact ones and may be just slightly more sophisticated...but only slightly). There is also a "focus group" afterward, wherein the moderator asks participants what other movies they would liken this one too and--the hundred thousand dollar question--would you recommend this movie to your friends and/or family?

The purpose is to give the company releasing the film information on the the films strong points and weak points. Presumably this helps the marketing team decide what things about the movie to focus on in terms of selling it. And, frankly, it serves as a preliminary indication of the likely answer to that all-important and all-terrifying question that must be faced: do we have a winner? Or do we have a dog? The truth is, most movies are flops--if you define flop strictly in terms of "did they make their money back". The movie business exists on the backs of a very few very big hits. The OTX screenings are highly reliable early indicators of whether or not a movie "speaks" to an audience. Generally the overall approval rating of a movie doesn't rise above 65 percent--this is considered good because it's well above average and no movie can please every age/sex/class group of filmgoer. And what were the numbers on "City Island" you may well be wondering?

Well. I hate to be the one to tell you (being as I'm the creator of the subject of this little lab experiment) but our movie scored a mind-boggling 91 percent approval rating. I wasn't at the screening (my producers Lauren Versel and Zachary Matz were) but I was told that the laughter steadily built and was more or less continuous through the second half of the movie. (Odd since my intention was to make a tragic tear-jerker). (Joke). Let me quoth Lauren who put this in writing this morning in an e-mail to our various producer-investors/supporters etc.:

These scores mean the filmgoers are saying they would definitely recommend the movie to others and that they believed the movie to be “excellent or very good.” Also, these results were seen in what they are calling “four quadrants,” which means across the board - with young and old women and young and old men. This is very difficult to achieve with one movie. I have been told by many savvy insiders that they have never heard of a film scoring so high in a test screening. We are consistently getting laughs in the same places at all of the screenings. This is very good for us and our movie! We all know the expansive potential of CITY ISLAND, and it was wonderful to watch the Anchor Bay team witness the incredible audience reaction firsthand. These results will be very helpful as Anchor Bay begins to develop and implement their marketing campaign for the film throughout the fall and winter...the current plan is to first open in New York and Los Angeles in one theater. We will all have to help fill the theater that weekend for all of the screenings! If the film plays the way we believe it will, they will then platform release it, or build it to more screens in more markets. It is thrilling to see our baby go out into the world!

Thanks, babe. Mind if I quote you? Should I have asked first?

Seriously, though, check out the last few lines. The subject of this increasingly uni-movie-centric blog is bound to get only more intensely uni-minded as the release date of "City Island" approaches. As Lauren says, we need to fill the theaters that opening weekend and during the rollout into the other major markets. And I will be shamelessly pandering to all of you who have followed the progress of the movies journey thus far to help me achieve a 21rst century sort of digital miracle wherin we create enough buzz via the web to get butts in seats on those weekends. I'm not sure quite how to effect this and I'm looking for suggestions. I would offer to sponsor a contest but what could I offer as a reward--allowing you to buy me dinner? Perhaps I will resort to the auctioning off of memorabilia. I believe I have an ashtray that is still dirty from a cigar that Andy Garcia left in it.

Or perhaps I just need to extend myself to you, dear City Island followers, and ask once again--with gracious modesty and some embarrassment--to HELP US PUT THE DAMN MOVIE OVER THE TOP AND MAKE IT A HIT. (Like you did with Tribeca--I'm quite convinced that blogathon and the air of good-vibeyness resulted in our Audience Award and thus our sale to Anchor Bay). Any ideas would be welcome--mass e-mailing? Invasive internet stalking on sites that would draw audiences? Free Heineken? I'm up for anything but we do need your help.

Leave ideas in the comments section. And by the way, thanks for the translations from the Brazilian/Spanish/Portugese, everyone. Now dig John Pizzarelli in his tribute to my new favorite state, New Jersey...

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  1. Wow!! That's incredible! Sounds like people are discovering what we've always suspected...that you have an awesome movie that has wide appeal.

    The only thing that worries me about you wrote is there any possibility that it wouldn't get a wide release? Opening in LA and NYC is all well and good but it seems that they get everything and those of us in middle America (like St. Louis for instance) kinda get overlooked (we love good movies too!).

    As far as suggestions, I don't really have any many but I can tell you how I hear of movies. I usually frequent movie websites (maybe screen for some of them to get them talking)? I also look for trailers and stills and interviews (if I don't know it's coming out it doesn't do much good).

    My other big draw is the actors. If you get their fans onboard (all of them not just for the STAR) they'll pass it around from board to board. We all have our favorites and sometimes we'll go just for them.

    If you have a City Island Twitter or facebook page maybe you can post and pretty often too. Nothing is worse than a page with no info. I like to have my anticipation built throughout the whole thing. Same thing goes for the website. Update, update, update. I feel like most new info Ive seen lately has been from foreign websites. Is any of this helpful? It's just my take on what I look for.

  2. You guys should really come out West to screen! I would watch it in a heartbeat.
    Maybe you could make a trailer or something and post it on IMDB/YouTube/other websites. I also love behind-the-scenes stuff and that always makes me want to see the movie.

  3. I'm so happy lol lol Bravo City Island! Now ideas...hmmm...

    oh oh I got one but you have to fly me to New York to tell you! It is really good I promise! Haha OK kidding, well I am sure that you and we'll think of something awesome!! Till then...


  4. Congratulations! This is really, really great news. You must be so proud of your movie. I look forward to seeing it soon. Will you have a "premiere" for it? I know that it opened at Tribeca, but I'm thinking like the usual LA premieres.

    I agree with the idea of keeping information out there. I went on Twitter to look for City Island and found one @cityisland that hadn't been updated since July of last year. Are any of your actors on Twitter who could talk it up or recruit followers? I know Lynn Collins is on there @lynncollins1 and she had a cameo right? Plus, being married to Steven Strait.

    The facebook page just has the same info as your blog and I know people are on there asking questiosn sometimes that don't get answered.

    The website is fun, but it hasn't been updated for quite a while either.

    I just think keeping new stuff out there helps a lot. Plus, the more information out there, the more people who are excited about it can send to friends and family or go on fan boards and spread it around there. And toot your own horn because you know you have a terrific movie! And we know it too.

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  6. BOMBARD Myspace. That is how 300 became so huge. You couldn't escape the ads for it on Myspace. Social networking sites like that, Facebook, and Twitter are a vital, VITAL source of cheap and wide-reaching advertising. Once word gets out about a good (or bad) movie, it spreads like wildfire. Hardly anyone reads print ads anymore. The internet is going to be a huge help to this film, I assure you.

    You also need to get this movie onto some film websites, particularly the biggies like CHUD, JoBlo, Aint It Cool News, or The Movie Blog. I write for a smaller film website called Stale Popcorn, I'm a known contributor on The Movie Blog, and I have a forum account at CHUD (where I told the guy who was covering Tribeca for the site to make sure he saw City Island!) so I'd be more than happy to help start spreading the word for you.

  7. Does the NYC/LA platform release mean that Anchor Bay does want to make City Island eligible for the 2009 Oscars?

    With ten slots open this year it's not impossible to snag a Best Picture nom. That can definitely get butts into theatre seats.

  8. This is so fantastic! Why couldn't I be in the Paramus Mall that day ??? lol. I can not wait to see this movie!!

    You need Andy/Julianna to get lots of coverage in People, EW, etc.

    I have already been talking to all my on and offline pals about this movie and will continue to do so :-)

  9. Don't forget the younger crowd...Steven, Dominik, and Ezra need to be out there as well. Don't want to get the rep of being only for an "older" crowd. Sounds like this movie has universal age appeal. So as much as I like Andy and Julianna, I'd be disappointed to see them be the only ones getting attention. After all, wouldn't it be great if this was the movie that really "broke out" your younger actors?

  10. OTX if a movie speaks to an audience .Its almost a shame that
    Art should seek approval from
    people that know nothing of the
    process of making a film. But I do
    realize life is primarily $$$$$$
    But not for me (I try not anyway)
    It is almost like I would want to
    see it by myself.Because sometimes
    when I see a film and people laugh
    just to be cool .When sometime there is nothing to laugh about. I
    saw City Island I liked it very very much, much to laugh about.But if my Ahhhhhhhhh I said enough.....

  11. hello raymond,

    are you aware that the movie comes out tomorrow (Aug 20) in Israel?
    sadly with hardly any publicity and with no pre-release/first weekend reviews (that's due to the policy of the local distributors - contact me if you're interested in more details). but from what i hear from friends (we're all oh so very tight in the film critic community :)), it's a great movie and i hope it catches some word-of-mouth success.

    all the best

  12. I hope that it doesn't start getting Cd's on the street that
    would just not be the best thing to happen Israel,Brazil,Russia,
    these places cant be boot leg free....

  13. Stevie,

    Once the reviews do come out, can you share them with us?

  14. Great comments, y'all. I will deal, one by one:

    Mo---the scope of our release depends on the initial business we do, hence the importance of getting people into the seats on opening weekend in LA and NY. We will definately expand the following weekend to another ten markets, but again the box office must be positive to keep the expansion growing. Updating will definately be key.

    Kateroo--if by west you mean west in America, don't worry--we'll be screening and opening in the west. And we'll get a trailer up on youtube/imdb when it gets closer to the release.

    cisfinest--yes, we'd love to screen in the outdoors on City Island--we discussed that a few weeks ago and thought it might be a great kickoff event. Thanks for your enthusiasm re: a NYC screening, which we'll definatly have.

    Kristina--thanks for the movie sites and for the offer. I hearby take you up on your offer to spread the word. Aint it Cool News is the original of course--I need to get better versed in the other ones.

    Anon--have no fear: there will be a 2010 Oscars as well as the 2009. Whether we'll be there or not is a mystery I don't choose to have solved ahead of time.

    Stevie--Israel? You're kidding! Thanks for the heads up. I"d love to see some reviews if you come across any. Alas, I imagine there will be some leakage of copies on the street. The world is the world, though, and we can't go backwards...we must go forwards even if it means bad dubs of your movie available on the internet.

  15. Thanks for the response Raymond! I'm depending on those LA and NY people to make the opening weekend the success so the rest of us who have been diligently following the movie can have a chance to watch it on the big screen too! How do you decide which 10 markets to go to next?

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