On Harvey Weinstein and Snowpiercer's North American Distribution Model

This probably deserves repeating.

In my earlier review of Snowpiercer, I suggested that the distribution company’s decision to extremely limit the release of the movie was a fit of pique resulting from the director refusing an edict to cut twenty minutes from the production and add opening and closing monologues. However, there are two sides to every story. And, according to this piece, by creating controversy around Snowpiercer, distributor Harvey Weinstein might have been crazy like a fox.

As the Hollywood studios struggle with a depressed summer box office, losing the fickle young male demo and locked into a standoff with theater chains on release windows, they’re watching the independents experiment with video-on-demand release models. “Snowpiercer” marks a tipping point in the movie industry’s shift from analog to digital. Why? It marks the most commercial movie to ever open in theaters and quickly go to VOD.

According to Weinstein, following two weeks in theaters, “Snowpiercer“‘s first week on VOD earned $2 million, a company record. That’s a serious number, exceeding the performance for their previous breakout “Bachelorette” (VOD cume: $8.2 million). Movies with stars have always performed better on VOD.

A multi-platform release was not Weinstein’s original plan for “Snowpiercer,” which he acquired after reading the French graphic novel and screenplay and seeing some early footage. Korean producer-distributor CJ Entertainment and Bong wanted a 2500-screen release.

But when Weinstein saw the final film with moviegoers he decided that the picture wouldn’t play for a wide audience without editing changes, especially in the Korean language sections. But Bong didn’t want to alter his film. That was the crux of the much-publicized debate over the film. Go with the director’s cut theatrically and risk spending $25 million on prints and ads and possibly disappoint a mass audience, or stick with the artist’s vision?

Weinstein looked at the film’s performance in France, where it fell off after the opening week and scored only $5.3 million, even though the graphic novel was popular there, which told him it was a cult release. And he saw that Rotten Tomatoes’ score from critics was 94% vs. users’ 77%. That showed him that the film would not play widely with a mainstream audience.

“CJ wanted to go wide, they believed in it,” Weinstein says in a phone interview. “I read the script and saw the footage and when I saw the final movie with the very artistic flourishes that we all love, I thought, ‘it’s not for a wide audience, it’s a smart movie for a smarter audience.’”


Looks like I may owe Weinstein an apology.

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