Disclaimer: There is a lot of scuttlebutt flying around about this movie. Here's some news someone (who is in a position to know) shared with me yesterday. It may not be true.
So, Icon Productions - the production company of note for The Passion - has had no luck in finding a studio to distribute the film. They have hired Paul Lauer, the former editor of You! magazine to distribute the film. Paul, who seems to be a nice guy, is actually not in the theatrical distribution business, but has been doing freelance PR for various projects around town.
I'm not sure I can express how very weird this is to those of us who work in the industry. It's truly bizarre.
The upside for Icon is that they will keep much more of the ticketsales and ancillary sales of the movie. Generally, the movie theater keeps 40% of ticket sales and then the remaining 60% goes two thirds to the distributor, and one third to the production company of note. Another plus of this plan is that Icon will not have to edit the project to suit a distributor's sensibilities.
The downside is that, very often, editing for a distributor helps a project. Directors are known for meglomaniacal vision (Exhibit A: Scorsese on Gangs of NY; Exhibit B: Kubrick on Eyes Wide Shut; Exhibit C: Anything by Barbra Streisand) and very often the distributor is the only entity that can provide a veto to the insanity.
The principal downside is that setting up screens in theaters is a very complex task. I have personal experience here. A few years ago, I worked with Fr. Bud Kieser, and ended up with the unenviable task of trying to get his movie Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story into theaters. Just like The Passion, Fr. Kieser had been unable to secure studio distribution for the project. So, he basically got me a list of every movie theater in the US and Canada, and said, "Here. Book the film in theaters."
The problem is, except for the small art house and family owned local theaters, theater screens are owned and booked by a small group of people who represent the major chains. It's very much about deals with the studios and keeping relationships so that they can have future releases. So, we had many bookers say to us about Entertaining Angels, "We like your film, but we have to run Idiot Movie from Studio A because we want to be sure to get NEXT Blockbuster Comic Book Film later in the year." When you only have one movie, you have no clout with the exhibitors.
Secondly, chances are this will be a limited release because Icon has already put up $25,000,000 on the project and they won't want to spend too many more millions on the release. For example, it costs about $1500 to make a print of a feature to send to theaters. To really take advantage of a wide pr campaign, a movie needs a wide release these days of anywhere from 600 - 3000 prints. That means, to just make copies of the movie for a semi-wide release, Mel has to come up with $2,000,000 dollars.
Why do you need a wide release? Generally, because the national media won't touch reviewing a film that is not generally available to the viewing audience. This won't be a problem for The Passion, because this project is Mel, after all. But remember that EVERYTHING for Hollywood is built around the success of a film on opening weekend. If you don't have a wide release to match a wide pr campaign, then you can't hope to compete for top spots at the box-office opening weekend.
But there's more. A standard one-sheet campaign (that's the movie poster/essential image for the pr process) will start around $250,000. An epk (that's electronic press kit - standard element for all electronic media to promote the movie) will run another $250,000 to produce, duplicate and distribute. A quality trailer for theaters can cost anywhere from $100,000 upwards - sky's the limit. Then, you have to have a company who will be sending your trailers and one-sheets out to the movie theaters. Then, you need people to monitor that your trailers and posters are being utilized at the theater level. See, you only have one movie, and the theater is much more interested in keeping Warner Bros and Paramount happy than you, you little one-movie wonder.
Let's not even get into how much advertising for a feature film will cost. TV time and full-page ads are unbelievabley expensive and they don't just happen. You have to have a pr firm on board to buy and place the ads. Generally, in Hollywood, if a movie costs $25,000,000 to make, they will budget at least half that much to promote it. Often more.
So, let's hope this rumor is not true. Let's hope that Mel is still trying to find a studio to take on the project. Although, that looks more and more unlikely with every new accusation of lawsuits and latent anti-semitism...