WHAT DOES IT SAY about today’s movie biz that the producers of a film with established, respected stars like Ed Burns, Debra Messing and Selma Blair would rather avoid theatres entirely than risk a bad opening weekend?
It’s either a sad comment on the state of the industry today, or a bold pioneering statement of broad vision. Or maybe both.
In any case, Purple Violets — written, starring and directed by Ed Burns — aims to make movie history by being the first mainstream feature film to premiere only online, as a download on iTunes available for four weeks in November
We spoke to Purple Violets producer Aaron Lubin last week about this unique film and its unique marketing.
What’s Purple Violets about?
Aaron Lubin: It’s a relationship comedy about four characters. Debra Messing and Selma Blair are best friends who went to college together. It’s NYU, basically, though we’re not calling it that in the film. They’re both now in their early-to-mid 30s. Selma Blair’s character has written a critically acclaimed book of short stories but hasn’t written anything else in 12 years. She’s married to a local celebrity chef, played by Donal Logue. He’s a lecherous cad, basically.
Debra plays a single schoolteacher who runs into one of her ex-boyfriends, played by Patrick Wilson. He’s basically a John Grisham-type bestselling novelist who aspires to be a more serious literary character.
His lawyer is played by Ed Burns, who’s essentially this fairly obnoxious frat boy with a drinking problem. Ed Burns dated Debra in the past, and they had a bad breakup. She initially wants nothing to do with him, but he actually wants her back.
It’s basically a story about Selma Blair trying to recapture writing as a career, and also recapturing her first love. It’s romantic, it’s funny, it’s beautifully shot. It deals with themes of second chances, and is it possible to even have a second chance.
Sounds like the New York experience is very much a part of the film.
Aaron Lubin: New York City is definitely a character in the film, as it is with many of Ed’s films. There’s a lot of nostalgia in his work. He certainly loves to think about the different stages of his life, how he looked forward and looked back. He’s very sensitive to those shifts when change happens.
This will premiere purely as a download?
Aaron Lubin: We completely bypassed the traditional theatrical release. The theatrical space is changing, especially for specialized movies. Films are undermarketed, companies don’t have the budget to market them, so they can only stay in relatively uncompetitive theatres for a short time with very little exposure. There’s a limited number of screens out there, and it really matters which screens you’re on.
For movies like ours without really huge stars and with no real Oscar ambitions, there’s very little room unless you want some form of disappointment in a theatrical release, or you want to just play in New York and L.A. and maybe one other city.
Once you start working with the big studios, you have to go with a version that’s much more mainstream. Once you have that bigger budget with bigger stars, you have to adjust everything.
But at the get-go we were realistic about where our film lies in the marketplace. We know our audience for this, and it most likely is women in their mid-30s with a couple of kids. For them, a night out at the movies is something that’s a big event, reserved for maybe three times a year.
And you know, the truth is that a small, kind of melancholy story might be better to see in the comfort of home on your high definition TV and your couch.
Purple Violets screens Sun. Oct. 28 at 11:30 a.m. at the Trustees Theater and Fri. Nov. 2 at 2:30 p.m. at the Lucas Theatre.