An Open Letter to Ryan Kavanaugh

It’s not me, it’s you.

It’s over, Mr. Kavanaugh, I’m breaking up with you.

It was great while it lasted, but it's over. Our six month stint as BFFs has come to an end.

I was loyal. I sang your praises. I believed, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that you knew best.

When Relativity Media took Machine Gun Preacher off of Lionsgate’s hands at the behest of director Marc Forster, you told the world it was for the express purpose of releasing it in 2011, with an eye toward award season*. This comes directly from your press release at the time and no one (arguably) was more thrilled than I was. (I did the “demented poodle dance” on this blog for you!) So what happened? Were you just placating Forster? Or was it for your good friend (and the film’s star as well as one of the producers) Gerard Butler? Does one of them have incriminating photos or literally know where the bodies are buried? Was it always your intention to just open the door and let the film wander through it rather than shepherd it lovingly along its path to public awareness and hoped-for butts in the seats?

After having witnessed the almost complete lack of support you’ve shown the film, I have to ask, “why?” Why bother? Did you lose faith somewhere along the line? Did you lose your wallet? There was no trailer, no poster, no advance word of any kind until about a month before release. Then came the Toronto International Film Festival. Those of us who follow such things breathed a sigh of relief because we thought, “Okay, now it will begin. The film received a standing ovation at its world premiere. Surely the great minds in charge will build on this momentum and we will see a show of support.” Butler, along with his costar Michelle Monaghan and even the real Machine Gun Preacher, Sam Childers, crisscrossed the country stumping for this movie. No matter how many times they were asked the same questions, they responded with enthusiasm and a visible pride in their product. The problem is, I know all of that because I’ve been following the journey of this film since it was announced that Forster would direct and Gerard Butler would star, which was nearly two years ago. If I hadn’t been, it is entirely possible that I still would not know anything about this film.

(Lionsgate, which is still the international distributor of Machine Gun Preacher, has just released two new television spots for the European market, looking toward the film's November 2 launch.)

You’ve relied almost entirely on word of mouth and a grass-roots internet campaign by Gerard Butler fans to publicize this movie. And we have tried. We have done everything that has been asked of us and more and we’ve been doing it for weeks. Supposedly you’ve been listening, but where’s the proof? Now that it is slinking out of theaters in the larger markets, even before it’s had a chance to slip into the smaller ones, I, for one, am left to wonder what the hell was the point? Do you have any idea how hollow it feels to have talked this movie up to anyone who’d listen and have nearly every single one of them say, “I’ve never heard of it”? Now that they have, what difference does it make since it’s no longer available to them? I’ve gone so far as to buy tickets for other people because it was a physical impossibility for me to be in the theater any more than I already had been and yet I wanted to continue to show my support. I felt an obligation to show my support because I believed so strongly in the film and in Butler’s performance. Why didn’t you?

Well, apparently it’s all about the money. If Machine Gun Preacher does well, you’re afraid it might queer your deal with JP Morgan**, that your current financial partner, Elliot Investments, might not go gently into that good night and might stick around like a burr under your saddle. But, if MGP tanks and you can close with Morgan by the time your next release, Immortals, comes out, you’re golden and that movie’s success will prove it.

So, you took Machine Gun Preacher off of Lionsgate’s hands and appeared to all the world like a savior. I’m reminded of Leo Bloom and Max Bialystock (Mel Brooks' The Producers). In this case, when you (and whomever you’re in cahoots with) realized MGP might be a success you decided to blow up the theater, but you forgot to tell Gerard Butler, Sam Childers… and the fans. You let everyone think that Relativity’s involvement with Machine Gun Preacher was a show of faith in the movie, the director and the star’s incredible-enough-to-be-a-personal-game-changer of a performance. (Business aside, you’d think you’d want to support a friend. For God’s sake, Gerard Butler was in your wedding party!) Instead, it looks like you tanked your good friend’s movie…on purpose.

PS: Unless Hunter Killer is the mother of all submarine movies, with a role as meaty and exceptional as that of Sam Childers, it will not make up for the torpedoing of Machine Gun Preacher.


PPS: Box Office Mojo reports that as of 10/11*** MGP has made $325,65.00. That is a disgrace. At this point, it will have to work to catch up to the domestic take of Beowulf & Grendel, a little seen, barely released retelling of the epic poem, although it might catch Game of Their Lives (Miracle Match), a little seen, barely released movie about the 1950 US Men's Nat'l Team & the World Cup, both of which were released in 2005. Dear Frankie, which had almost no domestic distribution made nearly 1.5 million. WTF is wrong with this picture??

Even Gamer, which incidentally was released by Lionsgate, had a lot more PR and made a lot more money. Love 'em or hate 'em, Gerard Butler movies make money, especially those released after 2007. While I realize that this won't be the first film to have been scuttled by a lack of studio support or publicity, it is, just maybe, the first one that I care about this deeply.



*** The last date for which Box Office Mojo is currently, publicly, reporting figures for MGP

One response to “An Open Letter to Ryan Kavanaugh

  1. A Tremendous Travesty …

    I read this well-documented expose again and again expecting that my fuming indignation will dissipate with time. It does not.* MGP has not and will not be coming to a theatre near me and by that I mean within a four-hour drive, if even that. But, on behalf of those movie goers who DO or DID live near a theatre showing MGP, I am incensed that the PTB have tanked this film with what certainly appears to be calculation and a callous disregard for the professionals who invested their lives and treasure to see it made.

    Shame, shame on you Ryan Kavanaugh.

    *Definition of insanity: to repeat an action over and over expecting a different outcome. No one would argue that I’m sane, after all.

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