- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2000

The movie "Left Behind" will not be opening in movie theaters for another three months, but its producers are trying to whip up enthusiasm for it now by distributing the video first.

Christian fans of the film are hoping it will be a box-office success, and, in some instances, they are striving to make it just that. They see support of the movies as a sort of grass-roots project to bring a particular Christian message to the moviegoing public.

As part of that project, distributors of the video last week included with each purchase discount coupons for the coming theatre presentation plus posters. The video itself contains a pitch by the story's hero who encourages viewers to get the entire nation to the box office when the movie opens Feb. 2.

"We're taking a standard Hollywood strategy the sneak preview to the extreme," said Peter Lalonde, whose Cloud Ten Pictures in Ontario, Canada, co-produced the film with Namesake Entertainment.

"We want to create the greatest grass-roots effort for a film ever," he said. "Our goal is to win the box office the week it opens."

Confidence in the marketing strategy is based on the success of independent films like "The Blair Witch Project." That movie generated $200 million in ticket sales, which were largely stimulated by Internet chat.

"Left Behind," the movie, is based on the book by the same name, the first in a series that has sold more than 8 million copies. Promoters are counting on its readers to promote the film.

In "Left Behind," the first novel in the series, believers in Christ disappear from earth via "the Rapture" that instantly whisks them to heaven. Those remaining on earth uncover a plot by the Antichrist to rule the world through the United Nations.

Cloud Ten, the co-producer, reported it sold 1.4 million copies of the video last week. Most went to mass retailers like Costco and Wal-Mart. The Costco outlet in Beltsville sold out its two cases, or 112 videos, at $13.99 a piece.

"We hope [news of the video] spreads by word of mouth, like the 'Blair Witch' syndrome," said Joe Goodman, a producer at Namesake, the Louisville, Ky., company that bought the novel's film rights more than three years ago.

Namesake has produced religious-theme programs for the Disney Channel, ABC and CBS, and it put co-producer Cloud Ten in touch with Hollywood talent.

"We've become better filmmakers," said Cloud Ten's Mr. Lalonde. He added, "We had more money to throw at this film."

Backed by independent investors, the film cost $17.4 million to produce. Enthusiasts call it "the biggest, most ambitious Christian film ever made."

Mr. Goodman said that while Hollywood may call the genre a "Christian propaganda film," he believes it has achieved industry quality. "We're happy with the creative look," he said.

The movie ends with the star, Kirk Cameron, telling viewers about "The Left Behind Film Project."

"You are part of a very select group [that] makes up less than 1 percent of the population. We want you to tell everyone you know that they need to come see it."

The film's producers are hoping "Left Behind" will do so well that it stirs interest in the genre among Hollywood movie moguls.

Purchasers of the "Left Behind" video get matinee-price discount coupons to "Left Behind," the movie, and direct-mail Christian ministries also are pushing video and DVD sales.

"Use it to bless others you know and love and help ensure its successful release," says a mass mailing from Midnight Call Ministries in South Carolina.

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