Echoes of empty theaters

A curious thing happened on Friday, Sept. 9. I was scanning the paper for movies playing at local theaters that I had not already seen, and I spotted one: “Echoes of Innocence.” I assumed it was an arthouse film, but then saw it was playing on four or five screens all over the city. It was an actual new release, alongside “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” and “The Man.” Yet there had been no advance screenings. I hadn’t seen any commercials or advertisements. It was just HERE, out of nowhere.

I looked into it on our friend the Internet. It was opening on 175 screens nationwide — not a wide release, but a good-sized small release — and it was made by Christians in Texas. It’s the story of an outcast high school girl who has vowed to save herself for marriage, and who occasionally has visions from God.

Now, I do try to see everything, and I was intrigued by a movie being thrown onto 175 screens without any advance warning, and my friend Smacky was in town, and we love watching bad movies together, so what they heck, we went. And we were not disappointed, insofar as it was not just bad, but the fun kind of bad, the kind where you laugh at it and make jokes. (There were only three other people in the theater, and we sat away from them so our whispering would not disturb them.) You can read my review here.

But the interesting thing about the film is its marketing, i.e., there wasn’t any. As I said, there were no ads or screenings before it opened. Even when it did, there were no ads in the newspaper. Every other piece of crap in theaters gets at least a tiny display ad, but no one bought one for “Echoes of Innocence.” And it opened on 175 screens! Just making 175 prints of a movie will run you a few hundred thousand dollars. So there was SOME money behind it. But apparently not enough for any marketing.

I looked online. Not a single review of the film was to be had anywhere on opening day, which means it hadn’t been pre-screened anywhere else in the country, either. (Pre-screenings are the cheapest form of advertising: The critics see it, which means they run reviews on opening day, and regular people see it and tell their friends.) Even the next day, only a few papers had bothered to send critics to see it once it had opened. Even the New York Times, which reviews EVERYTHING, didn’t review it.

The following Friday, Sept. 16, the film was gone as quickly and mysteriously as it had come. It was pulled from 174 of its 175 theaters, remaining only at a theater in Grand Prairie, Texas. Its opening-weekend box office numbers were not reported anywhere online that I could find, which means the distributor, New World Pictures, failed to report them. (If the showing we attended was any indication, I would put the film’s total opening-weekend gross at around $40,000, or a per-screen average of around $230. That’s really bad, by the way.)

My question for New World Pictures is this: What did you expect? When you dump a film into 175 theaters with no promotion to back it up, I hope you’re not surprised when no one goes to see it. What you should have done is what every other small-budget independent film does: Open on 10 screens, thus saving the cost of making all those other prints, and use that money for advertising, advance screenings and other marketing. Not that “Echoes of Innocence” really deserves a wide audience, but come on. You never even gave it a chance.