Our core target demographic is 7-12 year old boys and girls... with a secondary focus on their parents.
The music, dance, strong female characters and adult comedian cameos should give the film a wide appeal.
While pitching this project to distributors and sales agents, we encountered a number of interesting challenges.
The first was that JHN is not based on any known material. Hopefully, we can tick that box by releasing other transmedia materials before the film - novels, games, apps, etc. However, we wondered about all the successful childrens films that were made in the past that weren't based on known material, either (Home Alone, The Karate Kid, High School Musical, Spy Kids, The Goonies, E.T., etc). Were these risks taken because of a lapse in judgement on the part of the distributor, or could it be that great stories, told well... sell well?
The second was that our film stars children with adults in supporting roles. It was suggested to us that we have a middle-aged comedian as the lead - on whom they can hang a marketing campaign. In other words, an A-lister of some kind - rather than a cast of unknown kids. And, if we were dead-set on using kids... could they not be teenagers? Unfortunately, both strategies would undermine the material. This is a kids movie - about kids, for kids, starring kids. Because they are kids and not teenagers, we don't have to deal with sex, violence or nudity. Our story is just good clean (and, messy) fun.
The third obstacle was that it was difficult to find a comparable movie - let alone one made in the last five years. It seems that if a movie is over five years old, it doesn't count anymore. This is an interesting postion - when you consider that many kids/family movies remain popular indefinitely. "Dumbo" is seventy years old. "The Sound of Music" is over fifty. By the current standards, these are geriatrics that continue to make a killing.
Finally, we were told that kids don't 'get' Westerns. Perhaps that is true. But, our film is a Western only in its genre. We don't have cowboys and indians. Everything about it is contemporary. And, quite frankly, the Western genre continues to explore themes that are relevant - especially in light of bullying and the universal experience of being the 'new kid in town'. And, finally, the Western framework is gag that the parents are going to get. If we've learnt anything from Pixar - it's that the story must play on two levels: the adults have to enjoy the film as much as the kids do.
We decided to test these assumptions in five focus groups that we held in England throughout 2012. We spoke to children in our target demographic from a variety of social backgrounds. We showed them posters of old films, discussed the first 15 pages of our screenplay, and talked about Westerns. The focus groups were arranged by Film Club - a UK non-profit organisation that creates turn-key film clubs for teachers to run in schools as extra-curricular activities. To date, they have 250,000 children aged 8-18 years in their program.
Here's what we discovered:
(1) Children are curious. They like new material, even if it's not based on a known 'brand' or known material.
(2) The playground is very 'viral'. When something becomes popular, it spreads like a virus.
(3) Children love to watch their peers. They love stories wherein the kids are smarter than the adults and save the day.
(4) Children couldn't care less who stars in the picture, so long as they are relatable.
(5) Children couldn't care less how old the film is, so long as it's good.
(6) Children don't know what a 'Western' is, per se, but they do know one when they see it. Because of the video game, "Red Dead Redemption", and some recent Westerns ("Cowboys vs. Aliens", "True Grit", etc) - they know the archetypes.
Our script pages were received enthusiastically, because every kid could relate to being the new kid at school. They had lots to say about cliques and bullying. Boys loved the weaponry. Girls loved the music and dance. We got a lot of laughs and a very lively discussion going.
We also found that children have seen a lot of old childrens/family films. It seems that there just aren't that many good ones made - especially, ones starring kids their age... which made those films even more popular. They had phenomenal recall when shown old movie posters. As point of fact, "Bugsy Malone" remains Film Clubs most requested title. That was made nearly forty years ago!
Running the Numbers:
We decided to run our own number on comparables - irregardless of when the film was made. In fact, "Bugsy Malone" is the closest comparable to Junior High Noon. It, too, featured an ensemble cast of children in a gangster-genre, comedy musical. Figures are very hard to come by since it was released in 1976. Nevertheless, it remains hugely popular to this day. It was released several times in the 80's and 90's with a Blu-Ray edition in 2008. In 2003 it was voted by Channel 4 viewers as the 19th greatest musical of all time and by Empire Magazine readers as the 353rd greatest film ever in the top 500 Best Films of All Time.
We went back 30 years and collected the box office results for every film we could find that matched the following criteria:
- starred children under 15 years with adults in supporting roles
- made on a budget of $25m USD (inflation-adjusted) or less
- was an action-comedy with fantasy elements
In the end, we found 57 films. The average worldwide box office receipts of these films was $200 million and the median was $77 million (inflation adjusted to 2010). In fact, only 11 of these titles did less than $30 million.
If we refine this list further by limiting it to ensemble casts of children (as opposed to a single star, such as in "Home Alone"), remove the top grossing outliers (e.g. "E.T.", "Harry Potter", etc), and do not include sequels... then we are left with 22 titles. The average box office gross of these films is $78 million and the median is $59 (inflation adjusted).
It seems to us that there is a gap in the market for features like Junior High Noon. Ironically, all the issues raised by distributors seem to be largely irrelevant to this demographic: they don't care who's in the picture, don't care when it was made, don't mind if it's new and original, and love seeing their peers as the heroes.
We all know that well-made kids/family films have longevity in home entertainment market. Every year, new kids enter the demographic and parents are hard-pressed to find safe entertainment, which is why they go back to the tried and tested. What is less known, perhaps, is just how well these films can outperform. For example, "Mary Poppins", which was originally released in 1964, has been re-released to cinema many times subsequently, grossing $650 million (inflation-adjusted to 2011) at the box office alone (excluding TV and DVD sales and rentals).
Here is an excerpt of data from a few of the comparable films that we found (all figures are inflation-adjusted to 2010 and are in millions of USD unless otherwise noted):
Title - Budget - Box Office
E.T. (1982) - $23m - $1.8b
Home Alone (1990) - $25m - $880m
The Karate Kid (2010) - $40m - $360m
Billy Elliot (2000) - $6m - $136m
Slumdog Millionaire (2008) - $15m - $382m
Stand by Me (1986) - $15m - $103m
The Goonies (1985) - $37m - $122m
Hotel for Dogs (2009) - $35m - $118m
Little Rascals (1994) - $?? - $97m
Shark Boy & Lava Girl (2005) - $?? - $77m
Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2010) - $15m - $76m
Big Fat Liar (2002) - $18m - $64m
Harriet the Spy (1996) - $18m - $38m
Given that our provisional budget estimate for "Junior High Noon" is $15-20 million, these box office figures give us confidence that JHN has ample precedence to perform well financially over its lifetime and throughout all the release windows.
If you are interested in investing in JHN, then please contact @dgw via direct message here on this site.
Further Reading for JHN:
Film Club UK Close Encounters
We ran a poster creating campaign and focus groups with the UK Film Club organisation during 2011 and managed to gain 10,000 fans on Facebook during our first few months.
We came away from our experience convinced that there is a significant audience for this film.