P.J. Hogan’s comedy is testing the waters for a relatively new distribution strategy. 
20 Mar 2013 - 11:41 AM  UPDATED 20 Mar 2013 - 11:41 AM

The tactic of releasing films concurrently in cinemas and on video-on-demand platforms in the US paid handsome dividends for Arbitrage and Margin Call, but will that strategy work for Mental?

We'll find out soon enough as P.J. Hogan's comedy is launching on March 29 at two
cinemas in New York, two in Los Angeles and on single screens in San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago, Phoenix, Jacksonville, Florida, New Haven, Connecticut and Richmond, Virginia, and on VOD services the same day.

On April 4, the film opens on single screens in Denver, Colorado, and Seattle, Washington. It'll play in some prime locations, including the Village East and Chelsea in Gotham and the Sundance Sunset in LA, but in each it's booked for a one-week engagement.

The giant talent agency CAA sold the film to Universal in the US, primarily a VOD deal which was conditional on a cinema release in at least 10 cities. Producer Todd Fellman says the advance from Universal is funding the theatrical roll-out via Dada Films.

The producers may have hoped for a traditional cinema release in the US, given the cast led by Toni Collette, Anthony LaPaglia and Liev Schreiber. But that may have been a risky proposition after the film grossed just $4.1 million in Australia, and bombed in the UK where it went out on 92 screens last November, distributed by Universal in both markets.

Arbitrage, the financial thriller starring Richard Gere, ranks as the most successful multi-platform release in the US. Nicholas Jarecki's film raked in $8 million at the box office and about $14 million in VOD revenues, priced at $6.99 per play.

The producers collected about 70 percent of the revenues from cable operators, versus 50 percent of ticket prices, and would have had to spend $15-20 million in marketing to support a wide cinema release. In 2011, J.C. Chandor's Wall Street drama Margin Call demonstrated that can be a profitable strategy when it clocked $5.4 million at the box office and nearly $8 million on VOD.

But there are risks nonetheless. Take Bachelorette, which earned $5.5 million on VOD but took a blah $448,000 in cinemas.