Drip-Drip-Dripping of Tyrannosaur

There’s a moment in Moneyball when Brad Pitt asks Jonah Hill, “Would you rather get shot in the head, or take five shots to the chest and bleed to death?” Pitt was talking about the best way to fire a baseball player, but the metaphor also applies to the killing of a movie. Particularly in the matter of Paddy Considine‘s heavily praised Tyrannosaur, and the fact that Strand Releasing has done a brilliant job of nickle-and-diming it to death before the 11.18 opening. Especially in the case of Olivia Colman‘s stunningly fine performance as an abused housewife.

I don’t believe, of course, that Strand’s Marcus Hu wants to kill Tyrannosaur or diminish awards talk about Colman (who could qualify as either a Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress contender, as she doesn’t strictly have a lead role in the film), and I know how tough it is these days for indie-market distributors. As one publicist puts it, “Marcus has managed to survive the last 25 years when a lot of people have gone out of business.”

But I heard this morning from a Strand press rep about current plans to launch Tyrannosaur, and they boil down to doing it all on the cheapy-cheap-cheap. No U.S. face-time interviews for Colman (she’ll be staying in England to do phoners while her husband is going to try and social network on her behalf), and zero screenings set for LA critics as we speak (although one or two will probably be set up fairly soon). Strand will send out screeners to AMPAS members in the acting and directing branches, as well as to NY, LA, SF and National and HFPA members. (But not BFCA, or at least not yet.)

“Sadly in this economy and landscape, releasing films like Tyrannosaur is really hard and a risk,” Hu explains. “Tyrannosaur is a great movie, but neither the Weinsteins nor any other distributors lined up to make an offer, nor was there a bidding war. Apparently, they did not see the commercial potential.

“While we are doing the most we can afford to do for an Academy push, the kinds of money that the Weinstein/Focus/Sony Classics can throw around, is not the business model we’re in. One misstep financially could put us out of business, and frankly, many independent distributors have gone out of business with misspending.

“Films like Tyrannosaur often slip through the cracks, so we appreciate your energy and and we are thrilled to be releasing it, as modest as our release may be.”

This doesn’t change the fact that Colman’s performance is Tyrannosaur‘s strongest hand, and by keeping her in England Strand is basically throwing in the towel. They’re essentially taking out a trade ad that says, “We love Tyrannosaur and we know Olivia Colman gives a genius performance in it, but we can’t afford to promote her. We know she understands, and we hope that you do too.”

If you care about any kind of justice prevailing in the awards-giving world, this is a significant tragedy. Ask anyone who’s seen this film. Ask In Contention‘s Guy Lodge, who posted his review yesterday.

I’ve been praising this film for months until blue in the face, but I’m no match for Strand‘s anemic attitude. Here’s how I put it to Strand’s press rep this morning:

“So in other words, Olivia Colman isn’t going to fly over and do interviews in NY or LA or make any real attempt to ‘work the room’? She’s staying in London for phoners, and her husband — I can’t believe you actually mentioned this — is going to try and tweet her into the conversation? Because the decision to do this means she’s out of the game. She’s not even going to try. And that’s a crying shame, given how amazing she is in Tyrannosaur.

“If you’re in the process of arranging phoners for Olivia, why have you not offered me, ‘one of Tyrannosaur‘s biggest champions,’ the opportunity to speak with her?

“The film is opening on 11.18, and so far there are two screenings set for NYC and no screenings set for LA….yet. The movie is opening five weeks from now, and outside of those who attended Sundance ’11 or at the LAFF or the Chicago Film Festival no one has seen it. I’ve been browbeating people about this film for months, and the big L.A. guns still haven’t seen it. Not Anne Thompson, not Sasha Stone, not Kris Tapley, not Pete Hammond, etc. This is a joke!

“If I was Olivia Colman, I would take out a bank loan for $50,000 and really go to town and come over here and make the rounds. Life is short and if you’ve done great work you have to take your shot. But then to do that you’d need a distributor who really believes in you and who has a bit of the old Harvey Weinstein thunder, and that distributor is obviously not Marcus Hu, who is too cheap to have scheduled any press screenings in LA thus far. What a tightwad!

“Between (a) the zero LA screenings thus far despite the opening five weeks off and (b) no Olivia Colman visit to the States and (c) no invite to speak with her on the phone, I’m just about ready to give up. The prospect of Colman landing a Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress nomination in a totally lost cause, and for two very simple reasons. One, the movie is probably too downbeatish — too much of a bath in British miserablism — for most Academy members to handle. And two, whatever chance Colman might have is being torpedoed by the meek and mousy instincts of Strand and the general lack of gambling spirit.”

  • RobbyH

    it’s nice to see someone’s passion about a particular film/performance. I didn’t even now it had a U.S Release Date yet. Gosh you really describe how bleak the awards season can be – not fair that a great performance goes un noticed because of all things – money. Here’s Hoping!

  • K. Bowen

    Have you mentioned this film before?

  • roland1824

    How about walking the walk and throwing them some free ads on the site?

    You should have asked the Strand guy if you can take a look at their books because clearly he’s lying when he says they just can’t afford a big push for her. And She’s been a regular on TV in the UK for a decade (“Look Around You”, anyone?) so she’s got the bank to come out and work it on her own dime–if she wants to.

    But really, all this talk of “what it takes” just underscores what bullshit the whole campaign season is. It should be about the movies, the voters, a dark room and a ballot and that’s it.

  • Edward Havens

    Nothing against Strand, but their most recent website update (circa 2008 or 2009) has made it all but impossible to find out when any of their movies are opening anywhere. I just visited the web site in maybe two years, and it still sucks ass. Their old site, you could find out exactly where their movies were playing at that moment and when they were going to open those films in additional markets. Sometimes, new is not necessarily better.

    And let’s be fair, they don’t have the marketing power to get any acting nominations. They weren’t able to keep the spotlight on the film out of Sundance the way Roadside Attraction was with Winter’s Bone or Oscilloscope did with The Messenger. If it weren’t for you, Jeffrey, I think most of us would have forgotten about Tyrannosaur by now.

  • Jeffrey Wells

    Wells to roland1824: Okay, that’s what I’ll do — I’ll offer Strand free ads. You know what their response will proably be? “Creating online banner ads is very expensive and we haven’t hired anyone to do that yet, but we’ll get back to you.”

  • creepingmalaise

    Great quote from LOVEFILM:

    “Without doubt one of the films of the year”

    Yeah, I would say, that is without doubt…but is it one of the BEST films of the year?

  • The Hoyk

    Jeff, if Strand waffles on creating a banner ad, perhaps you could make one yourself? What you present right now certainly doesn’t look that hard, especially if there’s no animation. You could hypothetically just take that logo box that is already in this story you posted, shrink it in Photoshop, and stick it on top center of this column. Or just grab a still or two of Considine and Colman, arrange them vertically, and put the title underneath them, to fill one of your side boxes. Edgar Wright has been raving about TYRANNOSAUR on Twitter (probably because both he and Colman worked on “LOOK AROUND YOU”), you could grab a pull quote to put in your ad; I know you’re not a fan, but he has a large following who trust his taste, so it’s worth giving his quote a boost.

    This way, you could throw it right back in Strand’s face: “Here, I did your work for you. Happy now?”

    Think of all the great press you could draw for yourself by such a gesture: you might just be the man that turns the tide for this movie.

  • lise

    I’d be willing to contribute some time and effort to do anything I can to promote the film and Oliva. Perhaps this could be the year that sees it’s first grassroots oscar campaign? Know anyone in New York she can stay with while appearing at the showings? Ditto for LA? There must be something we can do.

  • jeromejohn

    OK, this great post (my favorite in a while) of yours needs an update pronto. How did all the banner ads for this movie make it onto the site so fast, and does it change your opinion?