Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How everybody screwed up

You have only two more days to see "Compliance," a drama by Charlotte writer-director Craig Zobel that has gotten positive buzz everywhere from Sundance to The New Yorker. But then, so do I, because I didn't learn it was in town until yesterday afternoon.

That's right: One of the year's most important indie films crept into town invisibly and will depart the same way Friday. So what went wrong?

Magnolia Pictures brought the movie to town without informing anyone in the media, let along offering a chance to review it -- even though I asked a Magnolia press rep months ago to keep me in the loop, because Zobel comes from Charlotte and shot the memorable "Great World of Sound" here.

Nobody at Regal Cinemas' Ballantyne Village thought to tell me it was showing there exclusively. That's not their job; distributors are supposed to be on top of public relations. But employees at BV didn't put two and two together, either.

"Compliance" wasn't listed among the new movies in the film guide in last Friday's CLT section. Why? Because no one at The Observer puts that guide together from scratch any more; we buy it from an out-of-town service, which doesn't always know what's opening here, then update it as best we can.

I could have leafed through movie ads underneath the CLT reviews myself, knowing the fallibility of that guide. Had I done so, I'd have seen an ad for "Compliance" that listed the BV run. But even if I had seen it on Friday, I couldn't have gotten a review into the features section until Tuesday. (Saturday and Sunday sections get printed in advance, and there's no Features section Monday.) Exhibitors decide by Tuesday morning whether or not to hang onto a picture. So "Compliance" would already have been on the way out, whatever I wrote.

This breakdown in communication happens over and over on small indie films that desperately need attention to draw an audience. I don't know that a favorable opening-day review would have boosted the box office enough for "Compliance" to stay at Ballantyne an extra week, but it might have.

I don't expect anything to change: Whether or not a small movie succeeds here doesn't seem to matter much to anyone, including the people who put it into the marketplace. I just thought you might want to know what happened.