Robert Bolson

Robert Bolson

Summer of Seabiscuit?

By Robert Bolson -- If you film it, they will come...Or will they? We are about to find out. I'm referring of course to Universal Studios' motion picture Seabiscuit, based on the juggernaut best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand: Seabiscuit: An American Legend, which opens nationwide on July 25.

To borrow from Hollywood jargon, the movie is, as they say, "in the can." Production is complete, the soundtrack is set, and the theater doors are about to swing open.

The movie's cast reads like a "Who's Who" of high-profile Hollywood: Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, and William H. Macy. And the movie's trailer has already brought a tear or two to the eye of a few who have seen it.

The most important moment for any new release is its opening weekend. If a movie doesn't open big, as in opening at number one or two at the box office, this "underperformance" could spell doom for its ultimate longevity in theaters.

The pressure is even greater on the multi-million dollar budgeted Seabiscuit. With an ever-increasing "biggest movie of the summer" buzz surrounding Seabiscuit in recent weeks--combined with the occasional hush-hush suggestion of possible OscarĀ®-worthy performances by the movie's cast--if Seabiscuit doesn't open with huge numbers on its first weekend in theaters, it could quickly become one of the summer's biggest disappointments.

Years from now when historians refer to 2003 will they write about "The Summer of Seabiscuit?" Time will tell.

Whether it breaks strongly or stumbles badly on its first weekend with regard to audience attendance, one thing is assured, the word will spread quickly from sea to shining sea. And that news will become an important signal to many casual moviegoers who will then decide whether or not to see the movie at all.

Casual moviegoers mean the difference in a movie's success. Diehards, zealots, and groupies generally show up unprompted. But casual moviegoers need a little coaxing. Early reports of a movie's "hit" or "miss" opening weekend can be the tipping point. Titanic, the largest grossing movie in history, rose to that lofty perch because so many moviegoers went back to see it again and again and yet again.

Are the faithful fans of Seabiscuit willing to do the same?

In the dog-eat-dog world of the movie business, big numbers early normally mean bigger numbers later, and Seabiscuit's opening weekend movie competition appears to be modest at best. If Seabiscuit opens soft, it could easily drop off moviegoers' radar in a matter of just days or weeks.

So it's up to us to do our part to see that doesn't happen.

We must "Go Baby Go" to a theater on opening weekend. Even if you haven't been inside a theater since Gone With the Wind premiered, you should go on July 25, 26, or 27, the movie's official opening weekend. And it wouldn't be unthinkable to go more than once that weekend. Take your wife or husband, your sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, cousins, co-workers, friends, neighbors, and anyone else you can drag to the theater. Rent a big yellow school bus and take everyone in sight if you have to. Make it an event because it should be an event. It's not just any movie; it's a movie centered around horse racing. Our livelihood. And if we can't get our own industry to turn out to see it, why should we expect anyone else to go?

Make plans now. Wear your farm or business' logo wear if you want. Let the others in the theater know the Thoroughbred industry still exists. Don't even think about waiting to go see it later. Step up and be counted.

A huge break from the gate for Seabiscuit is good for the movie, which is good for the industry, and therefore good for you and me. A rising tide lifts all boats. And after all, when was the last time such a simple act could have such a potentially significant return and subsequent impact on the future of fan interest?

There may never be another major motion picture of this magnitude made about horse racing. If this one bombs, you can bank on it. And that would be a shame.

So next weekend, race over to a theater near you, step right up to the box office window and say those two very important words, "Ticket, please."

See you there.

Robert Bolson is director of marketing for Blood-Horse Publications and was an "extra" for the filming of Seabiscuit.