Who says old folks don’t go to the movies? All too often, Hollywood does because the fans largely responsible for making a film open in first place at the box office are mostly in their teens and 20s.
But with “The Thing About My Folks,” which opened in limited release last Friday, comedian Paul Reiser and actor Peter Falk hope to prove that a movie for older audiences can make money — and a lot of it. Reiser is 48 and Falk 78.
In fact Reiser, co-creator and star of award-winning 1990s television hit “Mad About You,” said maybe his film shouldn’t even be marketed to people under 40.
“This film wasn’t made for 15-year-olds,” he told Reuters. “I think our slogan should be if you’re under 40, you’re not allowed to see this movie.”
While Reiser said he was half-joking, his serious side really wants young audiences to come because they, too, can learn about families and relationships in the comedy in which a middle-aged son (Reiser) and his elderly father (Falk) go on a road trip toward self-discovery.
Falk, TV’s crusty private detective Columbo, agrees.
“Younger kids, they understand that things aren’t so perfect with their father or with their mother,” he said in a joint interview with Reiser.
“They know there’s a gap, and if they’re interested in finding out more about why they aren’t more connected with their parents, they should see the movie,” said Falk.
“Nicely put,” added Reiser.
If kids do not turn up, however, Reiser, Falk and the movie’s distributor Picturehouse, which is a partnership of New Line Films and HBO Films, are unconcerned for good reason.
Fat old paycheckIn recent years, younger people have been going to movie theaters less and turning to video games, the Internet and hundreds of cable TV channels. Aging baby boomers, whose kids have left home, now make up the fastest-growing movie audience.
The number of moviegoers 12 to 39 years old fell slightly in 2004, while audiences 50 and older grew by 11 percent to their highest level in five years, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.
Moreover, Picturehouse thinks “The Thing About My Folks” could become a box office smash like 2002’s comedy “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” That film cost $5 million to make, and in a long run in theaters sold $241 million worth of tickets in the United States and another $127 million overseas.
“Greek Wedding” did not open huge or top box office charts its opening weekend by drawing teens and 20-year-olds. Instead, it was released in a few theaters and at festivals and earned a loyal following among mature audiences by word of mouth.
“The secret to a lot of these films is allowing the time for the movie to breathe a bit (in theaters),” said Picturehouse President Bob Berney.
He ought to know. While an executive at IFC Films, Berney spearheaded the marketing of “Greek Wedding,” and last year at Newmarket Films, he masterminded distribution for Mel Gibson’s $612 million worldwide smash “The Passion of the Christ.”
Still, those hits come along once every few years, whereas a summer or holiday season produces several blockbusters.
That’s why studios covet “The War of the World” with its invading aliens and flashy special effects over “The Thing About My Folks” featuring two old guys talking about wives, kids, careers and themselves.
Suitcase of drugsAfter he wrote the script, Reiser took it to every studio in town. Several executives asked him to rewrite it for a younger audience. One said that if Reiser would play the father and make the son an 8-year-old, the studio might fund it.
“Somebody said, ‘What if they find a suitcase and there’s drug money in it.’ I said: ‘When does that happen? That doesn’t happen in real life. That happens in a bad movie, and by the way, you’ve got plenty of those on your shelf.’”
Falk laughed. Reiser, who told the story, did not.
In fact, Reiser finally decided to make the movie his way. He found backers, hired actors, a crew and a director.
With the movie made, he still had no distributor, so he toured “The Thing About My Folks” around the United States, playing at regional film festivals to good crowds.
Reiser is not the first or the only writer, actor or other entertainer to run into problems with ageism in Hollywood. A group of TV writers sued the major U.S. television networks several years ago claiming they were unfairly passed over for jobs in favor of younger writers. After several rulings and appeals, the case remains in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Berney’s Picturehouse finally acquired “The Thing About My Folks” following April’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
“I’m feeling very vindicated that, when I see the audiences laughing and being moved, we were right. This movie was worth making,” Reiser said.