You're unlikely to find a filmmaker with a more positive outlook on the month of February than Curt Hahn. In a season that's something like Hollywood's remainder shelf, Hahn sees opportunity — a chance to release his new film, Deadline, without competition from end-of-the-year awards bait or summer blockbusters. When Deadline premieres at Regal's Green Hills 16 on Wednesday, Feb. 15, it faces only the fiercest competition Nicolas Cage's Ghost Rider sequel can muster.
"In any industry, you'll have a place where there's good fishing, so everybody congregates in that area and competition gets more and more fierce," Hahn says, echoing the central metaphor of W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne's business guide Blue Ocean Strategy. "You want to do something truly unique? You have to sail off into a blue ocean."
Releasing a movie during the film industry's offseason isn't the only way Hahn is breaking the mold. The CEO of Nashville-based production company FilmHouse, Hahn has devised a release strategy for Deadline that borrows more from the music, theater and art worlds than from Hollywood. After the film's hometown debut, Hahn, some cast and crew will hit the road in a Deadline tour bus, holding red carpet premieres in 42 cities over 45 days before starting theatrical runs in what he hopes will be most area multiplexes.
While such an event would hardly register in Los Angeles or New York, Hahn says he's betting the red carpet will be a bigger deal in smaller markets. Moreover, Hahn says, while major studios avoid the early months for fear that bad weather will keep away audiences, the Deadline tour nullifies that concern by crisscrossing the South through February and March, only heading north once winter has subsided.
"By the time we get to Boston, it's April," Hahn says. "We're gonna see spring the whole time."
Maybe that sounds as if the Deadline strategy is just to avoid potential roadblocks. But Hahn says his aim is to find the smoothest path — or calmest seas, if you will — to Deadline's target audience, a group he says he's carefully identified via test screenings and viewer surveys. He knows how to reach them, he explains, because he knows exactly what kind of movie he's made: mainstream entertainment on an indie budget.
The third release from Film House subsidiary Transcendent Films, Deadline plays like a Lifetime movie, earnestly touching on bigotry in a way that (except for some racially charged language) would be welcome in your living room. Although screenwriter Mark Ethridge adapted it from his novel — which he'll be signing at 5 p.m. Feb. 14 at BookMan/BookWoman in Hillsboro Village — it has its basis in a true story: the murder of an African-American teenager that went ignored for almost 20 years. It only comes to light in the movie when two journalists (played by top-billed Eric Roberts and Steve Talley) start digging.
The cast is filled with local talent, including Darryl Van Leer, Jeremy Childs, Jessejames Locorriere, Jenny Littleton and Jackie Welch, and its soundtrack comes courtesy of Music City veteran Dave Perkins, who will perform at a soundtrack release party Feb. 12 at 3rd and Lindsley. Nashville viewers will also recognize the Tennessean's 1100 Broadway offices, starring as the Nashville Times. (As befits a movie with a journalist hero, newspapers in each city will host the premieres, with ticket sales benefiting local charities; the Nashville premiere will benefit Family and Children's Services.)
But unlike many films produced outside the studio system, Deadline considers itself an indie in method only, aiming squarely at commercial theaters in a commercial genre. Talking to the Scene at Film House's north-side offices just before the opening of Sundance, independent cinema's annual meat market in Park City, Utah, Hahn says the typical route for an independent film doesn't suit Deadline or FilmHouse.
"The kind of films that do well at Sundance aren't the kind of films we want to make," Hahn says. The long odds of the entire process, from getting into the festival to finding a distributor and actually getting into theaters — let alone finding an audience — only strengthened his resolve that Deadline didn't need to be there.
"They tend to be edgy," Hahn says. "That's not us. We're not edgy."
Given that assessment, Hahn says he knows that audiences at Sundance, Toronto and other stops on the festival circuit aren't the ones most likely to enjoy Deadline. By way of his aforementioned test-screenings and surveys, though, he believes he knows who will — moviegoers ages 35 to 54, who helped make The Help one of last year's breakout successes.
As for distribution, Hahn says FilmHouse won't make a feature film without being able to release it in theaters themselves. In this case, Hahn and his business partner, The Bank of Nashville CEO and chairman Hunter Atkins, funded the production, while an ongoing Kickstarter campaign has mostly funded the tour.
In some ways, the Deadline tour is a throwback to the days a half-century ago when barnstorming indie distributors hustled their own prints and promos across the South. Whether it'll work in the media-saturated era of Netflix and Hulu remains to be seen. Hahn says fellow independent filmmakers have been intrigued by the idea, but are only half-kidding when they say they're rooting for it to fail lest they have to start touring themselves. To Hahn, though, the idea makes perfect sense.
"When a band puts out a new CD, what do they do?" Hahn says. "They go on the road to tour and support it, right? Well, we're putting out a movie."
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