Passage to Zarahemla gloating

Occasionally, I receive news releases that for various reasons just have to be posted. This is one of them. ~Wm


Salt Lake City, UT — In just fourteen days since its release, Passage to Zarahemla, has already beat all other LDS films combined that were released during 2007–topping the combined total grosses of The Dance, Beauty and the Beast: A Latter-day Tale, Picadilly Cowboy (AKA Anxiously Engaged), Believe, and Return With Honor.

Passage to Zarahemla also maintains an impressive ranking in the top ten list of national films released throughout the state the past two weeks, rating third place the first week and fifth place the second week.

Says Chris Heimerdinger, Director of Passage to Zarahemla, “Hopefully, this figure represents a refreshing change in the LDS film industry, with movie-goers much more encouraged about being entertained by films with an LDS theme. We appreciate all of the support and enthusiasm people have shown for this film.”

The latest figures for Passage to Zarahemla go against a comment Sean Means, film critic for the Salt Lake Tribune stated in his March 16, 2006 article, “Box-office statistics show audiences, primarily in Utah, largely have given up on seeing homegrown LDS-themed movies in theaters.”

The opposite now seems to be the case as over $143,000 rolls in from box office results in Passage to Zarahemla’s first two weeks.

Heimerdinger adds, “Certainly, this has to be great news for the LDS community, both moviegoers and filmmakers alike, and that more LDS films will be made that will draw in LDS audiences, proving that there is a genuine forum for this type of entertainment.”

Addendum — just received the following request:Piccadilly Cowboy and Believe were inadvertently added to the press release. … We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused and appreciate your consideration of this revised press release.”

17 thoughts on “Passage to Zarahemla gloating”

  1. Chart of recent small budget Mormon films:
    Theaters Avg. theater/wk
    Saints and Soldiers (2004)
    First week 26 $4963
    Second week 26 $2838
    Total theatrical gross: $1,310,500
    (had good legs)

    Mobsters and Mormons (2005)
    First week 32 $2123
    Second week 32 $1425
    Total theatrical gross: $409,600

    Church Ball (2005)
    First week 40 $3609
    Second week 40 $1782
    Total theatrical gross: $465,000
    (started out okay, sunk soon after second week)

    Beauty and the Beast (2007)
    The Dance
    Picadilly Cowboy (AKA Anxiously Engaged)
    All three lasted one to two weeks, made very little money. They did not report the details.

    Return With Honor (2007)
    First Week 23 $1340
    Second Week 22 $ 905
    Total theatrical gross: $103,600

    Passage to Zarahemla
    First week 28 $2070
    Second Week 28 $1351
    It probably will finish with around $400,000.

    So, PtZ is doing much better than the four low-budget films previously released in 2007. But it is not back up to the money-making days of 2003-04, when a string of small-budget Mormon films (The RM, Johnny Lingo, Best Two Years, Saints and Soldiers) could make between one and two million dollars gross at the theaters.

  2. As for The Dance, Beauty and the Beast: A Latter-day Tale, Picadilly Cowboy (AKA Anxiously Engaged), Believe

    How wide a release were these? Were they actually theatrical releases in any real sense?

  3. Here is a breakdown.
    2007 films by LDS filmmakers:
    1. True theatrical releases films with LDS content (multiple theaters, full ticket prices, reviews in the Friday edition of the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune).
    All had budgets in the $300,000 to $500,000 range.
    a. Beauty and the Beast: A Latter-day Tale
    (Lasted in the theaters for only one week. Received an average review grade of .38 (1.5 stars) from the newspaper reviewers.)

    b. Picadilly Cowboy (AKA Anxiously Engaged)
    (Lasted in the theaters for only one week. Received an average review grade of .50 (two stars).)

    c. The Dance
    (Lasted in the theaters for three or four weeks. Received an average review of .55.)

    d. Return with Honor
    (Lasted in the theaters for six weeks. Average review of .50. Grossed $104,000.)

    e. Passage to Zarahemla
    (Average review of .44)

    2. True theatrical releases with no LDS content.
    a. Believe
    (Lasted one week in the theaters. Average review of .46)

    b. Moving McAllister
    (Only one of these films to be released nationally. 86 theaters in first week. Bombed, lasted in the theaters on three weeks. Grossed 43,000. Average Utah paper review of .32 (11.6% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes).

    3. Straight-to-DVDs which had “special screenings” at several Utah theaters, and a few others. No real newspaper reviews.
    a. Turn Around
    b. Stalking Santa

  4. What I meant to say with the first post was that although the film is doing better than recent films, it is still quite far below the financial success of the 2003-04 films. Also, I assume a key reason for PtZ doing well is that Heimerdinger has built up his own considerable fan base through his novels.
    The other recent films had no fan base to draw on.
    So, unless you are basing your film on a very popular LDS book (and after Lund, the Book of Mormon, and Heimerdinger, there are not many left) you are going to face some major challenges in the LDS film genre.

  5. The analysis given here is interesting, so I thought I’d chime in. I acknowledge that we have not been able to regenerate the kind of success from the 2003-2004 LDS movie-going season. We regret this, because we sincerely believe we produced a product of equal or greater quality. (Yes, I’m obviously prejudiced, but just as a movie-goer, I believe that would have been my sincere opinion. Perhaps because I enjoy the fantasy/adventure genre in particular.)

    There were two factors that may have hurt Passage to Zarahemla in its initial release. The first was a negative review we received from Jeff Vice in the Deseret News–the main Utah paper subscribed to by LDS. This review, plus the PG-13 rating, may have caused an immediate turn-off to many of our potential LDS film-goers. The characterization consumers would have immediately assumed because of Vice and the rating we believe would have been unfair, but aside from that, it is something that we believe can be overcome with word-of-mouth. Such word-of-mouth may eventually benefit the movie in DVD sales, but may not “travel” quickly enough to benefit us in the theatrical phase.

    The Jeff Vice review was very odd, especially given that he was in a screening with people who were laughing and applauding in all the right places. He is a non-Mormon. But that may not provide an adequate explanation, because non-Mormon movie reviewer Sean Means from the Tribune gave Passage a POSITIVE review. We also got a hardy thumbs-up from Doug Wright of KSL’s Movie Show, and even very positive feedback several days running from the unexpected source of KNRS talk show host Bob Lonsberry. All these folks concluded that our movie was VERY appropriate for families, which is something that we knew as producers from the get-go. No profanity. No vulgarity. Even most of the violence takes place off screen! In short, we were VERY conscious of our LDS family consumers.

    The truth is that our movie is rated PG-13 because of our blood-decorated Gadianton warriors. However, no movie-goer would have been surprised by this since these images are plainly represented in the trailer, and even on the poster. Jeff Vice’s review proclaimed that we had “racial slurs.” When asked specifically what those slurs were, Jeff replied, “You used the word Indian instead of Native American.”

    Now, for those who have seen the movie, they will know that the most memorable moment when the word “Indian” is used is when our gangleader/bad guy said in agitation to his compadre, “I killing something! An Indian! I dunno!” I guess Jeff would have preferred that our antagonist had said, “I killing something! A Native American! I dunno!”

    Yeah, we hope others realize how silly that label is from Vice. We feel strongly that Jeff did not mention this slur specifically in the body of his review because he KNEW how silly it would have sounded to readers. He also said a number of other outlandish things like the movie contained, “vehicular mayhem.” Another movie that Jeff tagged with that label was Bourne Supremacy. Anyone who has seen Passage and the Bourne movies will scratch their heads as they compare both in such a category. In our view, Jeff’s review seemed SOOOO over-the-top in its negativity that we feel he must have some other motive behind his review than than the movie itself. Still, the review (which is repeated in every issue of the Deseret News until it leaves theatres) hurt our box office in the opening weeks, and we must acknowledge that.

    HOWEVER, I believe this was NOT our biggest obstable. The biggest obstacle we faced was a general “distrust” and “apathy” from far too many LDS film-goers when it comes to LDS movies. This “distrust” may be well deserved considering what LDS consumers have had to endure for the past two or three years. We now realize that one film was not enough to overcome this negative sentiment. But again, we expect word-of-mouth to work favorably in coming months, and ALSO hope to benefit from this phenomenon as we release the film outside Utah after the first of the year.

    By the way, this is also an important comparison that needs to be drawn between Passage to Zarahemla and LDS theatical releases from the 2003-04 season. Many of those films released much wider than Passage. We stayed entirely within Utah.

    So, in conclusion, despite all of these obstacles, our movie seems to be holding its own. Most LDS producers know that very little, if any, profit is made in the theatrical phase. What is hoped is simply that further DEBT is not accumulated, and that DVD sales can immediately be racked up as profit. In those terms, we anticipate that Passage to Zarahemla will not only compete with other LDS movies, but may surpass their success.

    But will this ressurect the LDS filmmaking genre? Unknown. Possibly not. Film is so expensive in the first place, and we’ve been fortunate that most of our investors got involved because they wanted to see the project DONE. Certainly they didn’t want to LOSE money, but they were eager see a worthy theatrical film that celebrated the Book of Mormon, and this was a primary driving motivation.

    This kind of motivation may have to continue to be the driving force behind future LDS films. That is, until such time as LDS movies can promise the same kind of returns as California real estate. But wait. Isn’t real estate in a major slump right now? Hmmm. Maybe LDS directors and screenwriters should be prepared in case a possible spike in interest emerges. 🙂

    In the end, our belief is that the only thing that will keep LDS film a viable medium is quality. If low quality LDS films continue to be the staple of the marketplace, the market will eventually react by driving a stake into its heart.

    Chris Heimerdinger

  6. I saw this film and was actually really pleased with it. I also read Vice’s review and thought that the review was odd (although I’m beginning to have a bad taste in my mouth with Vice in general, as I continually tend to disagree with his reviews 75% of the time).
    The violence I didn’t like in the film actually had nothing to do with the Lamanite warriors and everything to do with a hunting episode at the beginning of the film which I thought ended gruesomely. There was also a near rape at one point– fortunately cut short and kids probably wouldn’t pick up on it, but I certainly did. I didn’t think that those two slices of the film gelled with the style and feeling of the rest of the movie, which was geared towards Mormon families.
    Despite those two small objections, I thoroughly enjoyed the film and thought that it was one of the better contributions to the LDS film genre. Good work, Chris.

  7. I directed Return WIth Honor and I would like to share some information of my own, please. I promise I’ll be good.

    First I’d like to thank Mahonri for being the first to say kind things about the film on the Deseret News comment page. I am sorry you were attacked for being, among other things, anti-Mormon.

    I don’t want to discuss the relative merits of the films that are regularly mentioned in these discussions. Since I shuttle between New Mexico and LA, I haven’t had the oppurtunity to see any of them. But if I was to blame the present apathy towards LDS themed movies on anyone, I would be more likely to blame it on movies audiences have seen (such as those during 2003-04) than on movies nobody saw.

    Frankly it’s painful when your movie doesn’t attract an audience. But in the mainstream world, light dramas and comedy/dramas don’t often burn up the box office anyway. If they’re lucky, they make their money back. This even true for really good films like Away From Her, Sweet Land, Akeelah And The Bee, and Waitress., all of which found an audience and did OK. My favorite example would be Once. Made for $150,000, it’s made close to ten million. It has no sex or violence, just music from generally unknown artists.

    We received one and a half stars from Jeff Vice. But still, I personally believe the general perception of Return With Honor was already in place before the movie came out. Vice’s review just validated what the mainstream already believed. Also, when Vice has liked a Mormon movie, like States of Grace or New York Doll, it didn’t lead to anymore box office success than what befell us.

    We did not want Excel not to market it as a missionary film, which it isn’t, but they did, saying missionary films did well in this market. I wasn’t that crazy about the trailers either, although I’m not positive mine was any better (it’s on youtube). We played for 2 weeks in Utah before the theaters (we had 23) began to drop us. And then we played for 2 weeks in 2 theaters in Vegas with next to no promotion from Excel, just Tracy (the writer) handing out flyers at the Deseret Bookstores.

    We were a little devastated. The film had performed well at two film festivals with largely non-Mormon audiences. We won awards. We got some positive reviews. We were well-received at the LDS Film Festival (both times) and the premiere was great. I am aware that there were those who hated the film (like one of my best friends). The actors and I were even on the air with Bob Lonsberry who had high praise for the film.

    I think Andrew Hall’s comment about films in this market doing better when they are pre-sold (popular books) is true. Unfortunately they are successful only to a point. None of the previous ventures could count on the theatrical release to recoup their budget. I don’t think this bodes well for those who tire of low budgets in Mormon films. But that’s the reality of the market.

    Though I believe Matt Whittaker’s forth-coming Huebner film might have possibilities.

    But that’s the Darwinian nature of commercial filmmaking. It can be nasty. But if you want public attention,you have to accept the good with the bad. I’ve been supporting myself in this field for close to 30 years (for the most part not on LDS films) and it hasn’t gotten easier.

    But being philosophical, maybe it’s good. I personally believe only the surface of possible LDS-themed subjects have been touched. Maybe it will push those up and coming filmmakers to be more creative and perceptive in storylines, knowing they won’t get the free pass some of us older folks were used to from Road Show competitions (I still await my award for Best Participation, thank you). Judging from what I’ve seen in the community, I have hopes this is true. All that’s missing is some real life experience on the part of the artists.

    But who’s going to educate the audience, Mormon as well as the larger mainstream viewers, to go deeper than the intellectual laziness of too much binary judgement (i.e. “This the worst movie I have ever seen” or “This is the greatest movie I have ever seen”)? And maybe that’s a service of blogs like this. That’d be good. It’s certainly better than the comment pages at the Deseret News, which is more like a shouting match.

    Anyway, thanks for the time.

  8. Thanks for posting, M. Amundsen. We always appreciate hearing from filmmmakers and authors. And we’re definitely happy to not be hosting a shouting match. 😉

  9. Thanks, for posting that M. Amundsen. I really did enjoy your film– I was moved and I’m not in the slightest bit embarassed to say so say so. Did it end up re couping its initial investment at least? I hope it does well on DVD– that’s where the LDS market seems to be leaning nowadays.
    Amd, yeah, that DesNews comments page– wowsers, people could calm down a bit. First time I have EVER been called anti-Mormon. Still scratching my head about that one.

  10. Thanks for asking. The theatrical wasn’t strong enough to come close to recouping the initial investment, especially when you include promotion costs. But we have hope that people will discover it on DVD.

    I want to mention that most of the LDS Church members who attended the festival screenings in New York and Houston were bi-lingual LDS Latino families who searched out the movie on their own. In fact with a few exceptions, almost all Mormons at these screenings were Latino.

    I only bring this up to suggest there is a whole other untapped LDS audience. I would love to see the DVD subtitled or dubbed. Since this last feature I did (not Return With Honor) was specifically for a company that specializes in the Spanish-speaking immigrant market, this is an exciting possibility to me.

    Anyway, thanks again for the kind words. I enjoy reading this blog quite a bit. I’ve been reading it for about a year.

  11. why would dutcher put out a red-band trailer for a rated r mormon movie? they way the theatrical market in utah is tanking, i can’t see the use in going that route. (cool trailer by the way)

  12. Mark:

    Great question. You’re very welcome to comment here. But I have to ask — do you work with Dutcher?

    I ask because these two recent AMV comments smack of an attempt at viral marketing for “Falling” — especially in light of your pattern of Dutcher-related comments on other Bloggernacle blogs.

    It’s okay if you are. AMV welcomes comments from people in the industry. Even PR people. Heck, I work in PR.

    And I was planning on linking to the trailer anyway. But I just thought that I’d ask, especially since the e-mail address you use is different from the handle — Mark L. — you are using.

    Now, of course, anyone could plug in any e-mail address into the comments form. I could be totally off base here and if so, I apologize. It could just be that you’re excited about the trailer and decided to see what’s being said (or not being said) about it in the Bloggernacle.

    And really, it doesn’t matter to me. Feel free to continue to comment as Mark L. But I thought I’d ask because my viral marketing meter started flashing.

  13. Passage to Zarahemla pleasantly surprised me considering the Fantasy genre is very rarely well done. I do, however, have a few points:

    1) The acting was well done for the most part, though I do have some concerns about Kiddoni. Specifically, while he had a decent ability with his face, his voice often came off as stilted rather than passionate. The main character, on the other hand, was amazing.

    2) I loved the Gadianton robbers. They were creepy, they were otherworldly and the costuming was nothing short of genius. However, I wish that the scene in the doughnut shop had either not happened or took a different tact. It seemed almost tacked on for comedic value. While comedy is important in a drama, it didn’t blend well.

    3) Bryce Chamberlain was fantastic and the scene with the guns was worth a chuckle, but the John Woo two-gun mojo might have been a bit over the top considering the attitude of the rest of the film.

    On the whole, those minor concerns aside, it was a well-done film. In particular, the scene of the stalking Gadianton who appears outside the bathroom made me cheer.

  14. I first read the book and then when the movie came out I was excited to see it as I loved the book. I was not disappointed by any means since the movie followed the book right on. I love the fantasy (if that is what they are called) books. I find it refreshing to be able to enjoy such a movie. The sound track is fantastic. My grandchildren beg to see the movie again and again when they come to my house. Thanks Chris Heimerdinger for the great books and now the great music and movie. Personally I loved your voice on the music and would love to see your Tennis Shoe series made into a movie series.

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