- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 19, 2010

Taking aim at the Obama administration’s economic record, a new documentary is looking to ride a wave of government resentment to the unusual heights of blockbuster status.

Think “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Michael Moore’s liberal documentary that dovetailed with Americans’ shrinking approval of President George W. Bush and growing alarm over the Iraq war, but for the nation’s center-right voters.

The makers of “I Want Your Money,” which uses animation plus interviews with conservative-leaning pundits, know their core audience and have tapped one of the few marketing companies with experience in attracting conservative-leaning voters to movies. Motive Entertainment worked on “The Passion of the Christ” and “Expelled,” films that exceeded box office expectations.

“Its all about connecting with the core motivation and value of the receiving audience,” said Paul Lauer, CEO and founder of Motive Entertainment. For “The Passion of the Christ,” that meant reaching out to faith-based groups. “I Want Your Money” is seeking out other targets - conservative talk-show hosts and “tea party” affiliates.

“They are very responsive and supportive,” he said. “The message will be appealing to both sides of the aisle, but its core audience will be more of your conservative voter. That’s what we’ve focused on.”

So far, so good. The YouTube trailer for the film, which opens Oct. 15, has been viewed more than 2.5 million times.

The movie’s stinging rebuke of President Obama’s stewardship of the nation’s foundering economy has another arrow in its marketing quiver — the film’s narrator and driving force, director Ray Griggs.

No, Mr. Griggs isn’t overweight or prone to wearing ball caps a la Mr. Moore, but his everyman persona can connect in a similar way to Mr. Moore’s on-camera appearances.

“He looks and feels like a guy from somewhere in the middle of the country really speaking on behalf of the people,” Mr. Lauer said. “He’s not setting himself up as a leader, just a guy asking the questions that the rest of us are thinking.”

But the documentary will succeed or fail based on its entertainment value, not partisan finger-pointing, said Eddie Schmidt, president of the International Documentary Association and an Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker (“Twist of Faith” and “This Film Is Not Yet Rated”).

“The entertainment factor will be paramount, even to people who align with the message,” Mr. Schmidt said.

Basing his prediction on the trailer for “I Want Your Money,” Mr. Schmidt said he isn’t convinced the film will succeed.

“It reminds me more of the right-wing satire ‘An American Carol,’ which flopped,” he said, citing the clip’s “clunky” animation as a cause for concern. “It doesn’t appear this film rises to the level of entertaining of a Michael Moore film.”

No matter where one stands on Mr. Moore’s films, few argue that they lack pizzazz.

Documentary films rarely take in more than a few million dollars at the box office and sometimes fail to make a fraction of that amount. “Fahrenheit 9/11” made $119 million during its 2004 theatrical run, a figure more akin to a superhero sequel than a cinematic commentary.

One factor working against “I Want Your Money” is the cyclical nature of the modern documentary.

The genre attracted a surge in interest a few years back, but documentaries are enduring harder times now. While this year’s heavily promoted film “Babies” drew $7 million, the much-discussed “Casino Jack and the United States of Money” mustered only $176,000. Oliver Stone’s “South of the Border,” which got plenty of press attention, made less than $200,000.

Robert Marich, author of Marketing to Moviegoers: Second Edition, said the film’s poster featuring a caricature of the president could be problematic.

“I think any poster satirizing President Obama would do as much harm as good for the box office,” he said. “That would turn off people sympathetic to Obama, and some of those would be open to seeing the film.”

Other aspects of the film’s marketing campaign, including the trailer, are far more effective, Mr. Marich said. The debt clock running on the official website (www.iwantyourmoney.com) is a clever marketing tie-in, he said, that “really drives home what the subject of the film is.”

“The Democrats have given them a lot of material which they’ve been able to work with,” he said.

The vast majority of documentaries with specific points of view lean left, which gives “I Want Your Money” an opening to be exploited, Mr. Marich said.

“Westerns were dead in theaters, then along came ‘Dances With Wolves’ tapping an untapped vein,” he said. “Going against the cycle actually works well.”

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