'The Undefeated' Declines at Box Office, Heads to Pay Per View

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In hindsight, the time and energy of its grassroots boosters would've been better spent on other projects

palin movie.jpg

Boosters of The Undefeated, the documentary-style film about Sarah Palin, spent the week after its debut touting its allegedly impressive success, lambasting its critics, and claiming that journalists like yours truly were actively conspiring against it. So is it breaking out of limited release and coming soon to a theater near you? Not quite. With the film "increasing its playdates by 40 percent this weekend, only to watch box office revenue decline by more than 63 percent, distributor Arc Entertainment announced Sunday that the film will soon be available on pay per view."

Says Producer Glenn Bracken Evans:

This title is absolutely perfect for Video-on-Demand and Pay-Per-View backed by a traditional and significant marketing campaign. We are incredibly excited about having this film made available to the entire country earlier than expected. A traditional windowed release would not have allowed us to maximize viewership of this highly sought after film.

Responds Dave Weigel:

Realistically, though, how "highly sought after" can the movie be if roughly 10,000 people have actually sought it out and seen it? 

When I began writing about this film, I was surprised to find an empty theater upon attending its midnight debut in Orange County. After the subsequent uptick in attendance, I thought that perhaps it would succeed. And I am now surprised at the evidence that there never was sustained, widespread interest in it. This is a woman whose books are bestsellers and who gets paid millions of dollars to appear on cable news. Why didn't a movie about her, however poorly reviewed, fill more seats?

There is a more pressing mystery too.

I understand why Director Stephen K. Bannon fought back hard against the notion that his film was under-performing. Hard to blame him. Then I came across a May 2010 New Yorker profile of Andrew Breitbart, which reported that "in February he moved into office space in Santa Monica that is being provided gratis by a friend of his, Stephen K. Bannon, who is a conservative filmmaker and a former Goldman Sachs banker." So no surprise that the "Big" sites obsessed over The Undefeated (never disclosing the apparent conflict of interest, unless I missed the disclaimer).

But why did some Palin fans, people who want her to run for president, invest themselves so heavily in the success of the documentary? It seems to me that, once again, they were co-opted by folks with a vested financial interest, who energized them by pretending that the media was behaving unfairly.

The upshot?

Rather than going out to gather signatures to get a voter initiative on the ballot in their home state, or campaigning for a Congressional candidate, or volunteering at a shelter for pregnant women, or protesting in front of an abortion clinic, or even just going on a picnic with the kids, they spent two weeks in an ugly, one-sided Internet battle that accomplished nothing, and that, had it succeeded, would've only made the filmmakers a bit more money. If Palin fans want to make their mark, they should stop picking their battles based on the suspicion that the media is disrespecting them, and stop acting as free labor every time an entrepreneur pitches a Sarah Palin related project.

Image credit: Reuters

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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