- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2008

Something rare will happen in movie theaters across the country tonight. Audiences will see, or rather hear, unapologetically conservative messages at their local multiplex.

No, Michael Moore hasn’t had an Arianna Huffington-like change of heart. Radio talker Glenn Beck is simulcasting his live, one-man comedy show into more than 320 theaters nationwide.

The high-definition “Beck ‘08 - Live,” beamed from the Majestic Theatre in Dallas, will be played at five Northern Virginia theaters.

It’s part of the bigger trend toward event programming in movie theaters, like showing performances by the Metropolitan Opera and classic movies with new, DVD-style extras.

Is Mr. Beck’s simulcast the only way conservative voices can be heard in movie theaters, where fictional features imbued with the prevailing liberalism of Hollywood’s filmmaking elite is the norm?

Mr. Beck, who has the third most listened to radio show in the country as well as a nightly program on CNN, hopes the telecast helps fill that cultural void. But he adds the event, a comedy-driven presentation, is a work in progress from a commercial standpoint.

“This is kind of an experiment to see if our listeners will come out,” he says.

If they do, he’s toying with creating a new film division to “produce the answer to Michael Moore,” as he puts it.

“The technology is there now,” he says. “You don’t need those big studios behind you.”

Chad Hartigan, box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations, says if Mr. Beck’s telecast draws an audience, the industry may take notice.

“Hollywood’s always looking to copy what’s successful,” Mr. Hartigan says. But industry insiders might see it as a victory for personality-driven projects more than overtly political ones.

“This [format] could work for an already established personality from another venue,” he says, not just radio.

Rich Noyes, research director with the conservative Media Research Center, contends that events like “Beck ‘08 - Live” can’t have the rallying power that a successful theatrical feature has, and therefore likely won’t sway the masses.

Traditional films can slowly build an audience with repetitive marketing and solid word of mouth. One- or two-night stands don’t allow for that momentum.

Jason Apuzzo, co-founder of the Liberty Film Festival, is even more doubtful of the impact Mr. Beck’s film can have for conservatives.

Mr. Apuzzo, whose festival showcases conservative features, has no problem with “Beck ‘08 - Live.” He just thinks it misses the bigger picture regarding conservatism and the silver screen.

“I would resist associating this with conventional filmmaking. The fact that it’s appearing on a screen, that’s the only thing it has in common,” Mr. Apuzzo says.

“If the goal is to cultivate voices in conservative film, it doesn’t do any good,” he adds.

Conservatives looking to have their views reflected on film, he says, need to take a leaf from the page of the left and put money into an infrastructure that nurtures like-minded filmmakers.

The money to be made from projects like “Beck ‘08 - Live” is dwarfed by even a modest film hit. These events typically are one- or two-night affairs, and they appear in only a small fraction of the number of theaters that show a movie like “Hellboy II: The Golden Army.”

But they can still draw a crowd. Last year, a two-night broadcast of “Dirty Dancing,” in honor of its 20th anniversary, sold more than 87,000 tickets.

The theatrical showings may be just the start of the revenue stream for some of these projects. Mr. Beck’s production team plans to release tonight’s in-theater event on DVD, according to NationalCineMedia.

Larry Meistrich, founder and chairman of NEHST, a content development and distribution firm based in New Jersey, says these new theatrical presentations can whip up plenty of interest in any subsequent DVD release.

“I’d be surprised if the ancillary after-market part for [Mr. Beck’s] core audience wouldn’t be successful,” Mr. Meistrich says.

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