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ThinkFilm Faces Challenge Getting the F-Word Out on Documentary

By Michael Janofsky

Oct. 6 (Bloomberg) -- ``F*@&'' is coming soon to a theater near you -- in a manner of speaking.

The actual title of the new documentary from ThinkFilm Co., a common four-letter word, is sure to offend some people, and that highlights the curious challenge facing the company's chief marketer, Mark Urman.

``Newspapers, unless they are alternative weeklies, cannot print the word,'' he said. ``And movie theaters cannot put the title on a marquee.''

The documentary, which carries the subtitle, ``The film that dare not speak its name,'' is styled in the same spare manner of ``The Aristocrats,'' a 2005 release from ThinkFilm that ranks as the 12th top-grossing documentary of the past 25 years. That movie, which has earned $6.38 million according to Box Office Mojo, featured comedians dissecting a notoriously dirty joke.

The F-word film, which opens Nov. 10 in New York and Los Angeles before expanding to other cities, includes hip-hop artists Chuck D and Ice T, television writer Steven Bochco, journalists Ben Bradlee and Sam Donaldson, even failed presidential candidate Alan Keyes. They all examine the linguistic dexterity of a single word that often sparks controversy over its use in public.

Steve Anderson, the documentary's director and producer, said on ThinkFilm's Web site he was drawn to the project by the divisive role the word plays in popular culture, the First Amendment implications of its use, its myriad syntactical applications and its lingering ability to shock.

``Some people are offended by the word, but that's the power this word has,'' he said. ``Some people are intrigued by it, yet other people are offended by it and don't want to hear anything about it.''

Promotion Challenge

Audiences may find the effort entertaining. Getting patrons to the box office is another matter.

Urman is refining an advertising campaign and other promotional efforts that have obvious limitations. The film's Web site offers examples of what may be ahead: an F with three stars to serve as the other letters; an American flag-decorated star as one letter, surrounded by three others; and a cartoon man whose eyes are shaped as the middle two letters, flanked by the first and last letters.

Some weekly publications, including the Village Voice in New York and Time Out New York, are willing to run advertisements that include the actual title of the film, Urman said. He said marquees and leading newspapers were more likely to convey the title through emoticons -- symbols such as ``*'' and ``#,'' -- to represent the letters of the title.

Beyond that, he said the company plans to hire a company to plaster big cities with posters.

Expanding Audience

To expand the movie's audience beyond those who aren't bothered by its title, Urman should invite audiences to talk about the film, said Carolyn Allen, a Los Angeles-based Internet publisher and film-marketing adviser.

``If they want to go beyond preaching to the choir, trying to make social change, one approach would be to hold discussion groups after the screening,'' Allen said. ``In order to see change, you need to have people talking.''

Landmark Theatre Corp., a Los Angeles-based company co-owned by Mark Cuban that has 57 theaters in 23 markets, has agreed to exhibit the documentary. Landmark executives were unavailable to talk about the movie, company spokeswoman Melissa Raddatz said

Urman said ThinkFilm doesn't intend to apply for a rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. Under the association guidelines, any film in which the F-word is spoken twice would receive an R rating, which means parents must accompany any child under the age of 17.

``But why have a rating?'' Urman said. ``Mystery is better than certainty.''

Reporter Michael Janofsky in Los Angeles
Last Updated: October 6, 2006 00:09 EDT

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