Jonas Chernick's Movie, My Awkward Sexual Adventure, is a Video On Demand Hit in the U.S.
By Martin Knelman
Toronto Star; April 26, 2013
Jonas Chernick's adventure in the film business has been anything but awkward. Let's call it Jonas Chernick's Excellent Adventure. Other suitable adjectives would include amazing, elating, miraculous and unbelievable.
That's because of how My Awkward Sexual Adventure, the low-budget sex comedy of which he is writer, star and co-producer, has become a hit south of the border, without being released to theatres. The movie is doing nicely in Canada in an old-fashioned way, playing on 10 Cineplex screens across the country, where it has done well in its first week and is being held over for a second week.
That's an excellent track record for a small Canadian movie, but what's much more startling is the movie's success via a more up-to-date technology: video on demand or VOD.
"We debuted in the U.S. on VOD on March 19 and became the No. 9 most purchased movie in the country," Chernick crows. That means it was outdoing Argo, which had recently won the Best Picture Oscar. "This success is beyond anything we expected," says Todd Green, general manager of Tribeca Film, the U.S. distributor. "In theatrical release, a small independent film like this might do at most $100,000 at the box office. It is already clear this movie will do over $500,000 and it could come close to one million. We see this as the model for the future, though there will always be a market for some movies in theatres."
I predicted in January that this would be the sleeper hit of the year. But I had no idea then what would happen next.
After getting its world premiere at TIFF in September, Awkward had its U.S. debut at the Santa Barbara Film Festival early this year. By then, Tribeca had given it a slight change of title, to An Awkward Sexual Adventure.
But the company decided against a U.S. theatrical release. Some would call that risky and argue that a movie needs the publicity and promotion of a widely advertised theatrical release to succeed on VOD.
But according to Green, the key is to get cable companies to co-operate.
Chernick says Awkward ranked No. 26 on the Internet Movie Database star meter for a full week. That means in that week it was the 26th most searched movie title on the whole database. The IMDB ratings for Chernick and co-star Emily Hampshire also skyrocketed. To anyone in the film distribution business, it is hardly news that there is a big VOD market waiting to be exploited by people who would rather stay home than go out to a theatre.
As the Hollywood Reporter noted recently, U.S. theatre owners are alarmed about the erosion of their audience that this development represents. The industry trade paper says two-thirds of U.S. theatre operators refuse to carry a film that is released on other platforms the same day it opens in theatres.
But last fall, the thriller Arbitrage, starring Richard Gere, showed that a movie could be a financial success both on the big screen and through simultaneous release on VOD. In this case, the strategy of Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate worked beyond expectations. The film grossed $8 million at the box office and another $14 million in VOD sales.
Now for the downside: An Awkward Sexual Adventure is also a hit as a torrent download, ranking No. 6 on Pirate Bay.
"That is both a blessing and a curse," says Chernick. "The producer in me was gritting his teeth, but the actor/writer was thrilled. You can't buy hat kind of publicity."
So what's next?
"We have now sold the remake rights to France, South Korea and Lithuania," Chernick reveals.