Los Angeles–based Participant Media, one of the leading producers of politically themed movies, is out to disprove what Hollywood has long believed: that policy is box office poison.
Consider that in the past eight years, the company has produced such films as “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Page One,” “Waiting for Superman,” “Countdown to Zero,” “Casino Jack and the United States of Money,” “The Cove,” “Food, Inc.,” “Fast Food Nation,” “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “The Kite Runner,” “Syriana,” “Murderball” and “Good Night, and Good Luck.” Its latest movie, “Last Call at the Oasis,” concerns threats to the U.S. water supply. (POLITICO recently spoke with consumer advocate Erin Brokovich about her role in the film.)
Participant CEO Jim Berk says the market for political movies is, believe it or not, a fruitful one.
“The market’s always been there,” Berk told POLITICO. “It’s always been a small piece of the market. You can go back to ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ or ‘Gandhi’ or ‘Schindler’s List.’ There’s always a percentage of films — 5, 8, 10 percent of the market, never more than 20 — that are always speaking to the issues. The difference is that companies with films like that, they’re one-offs within the studio system. It’s not their prime, core business because that segment is a more challenging segment.”
Participant, by contrast, focuses exclusively on films that “inspire and compel social change,” which means it sometimes shakes up things in Washington.
“If you can raise the visibility, if you can push things into the zeitgeist, there’s going to be pressure on policymakers, on communities, and even individual pressure to make personal change, community change or legislative change,” Berk said.
Its marketing strategy? It’s not simply to get as many folks in the movie theaters as possible. It will do smaller screenings with lawmakers, policy wonks and schools — anything and everything to get people “emotionally connected to the film.”