With Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as its stars and Ang Lee as the director, “Brokeback Mountain” is generating the kind of Oscar buzz and media exposure that studios typically expect will translate into strong box office numbers. But in “Brokeback,” distributor Focus Features – the specialty film unit of Universal Pictures – has on its hands a movie that will put to the test whether the moviegoing public at large is ready to embrace an unabashedly gay love story that includes physical intimacy between its two leading men. “To help sell this movie, it’s important to have critical support, award nominations and to be on as many top 10 lists as possible,” said Gitesh Pandya, editor of the BoxOfficeGuru.com. “A movie like this, which already has a lot of buzz coming out of film festivals, can do some great business in the biggest art markets.” But how will the film, adapted from Annie Proulx’s short story of the same name, fare outside the art-house circuit? One way to try and gain widespread appeal has been to put an emphasis on the film being a love story. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBlues bury Kings early with four first-period goals “The thought around here is it’s a great movie, a very human movie,” said Jack Foley, Focus Features’ president of distribution. “It’s a film that deals very honestly with human situations and human conditions dealing with love, not just love between two men.” Focus has planned a careful platform release for “Brokeback” that begins with selected screens on Friday in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. “To get an opening in those markets is quite important,” Foley said. “The reality of the situation is that we are appealing to the core demographic that we think the film has which are women and, needless to say, the gay population.” Focus is limiting the first week to five theaters totaling about a dozen screens. One of the New York theaters is in the heavily gay-populated Chelsea neighborhood while the Los Angeles engagement will be at The Grove multiplex. Those engagements plus the San Francisco booking were designed to get a strong per-screen gross opening weekend and to generate positive word of mouth “so when we expand, it will sort of be a grass-roots front-runner to build even more excitement about the film,” said Foley. On Dec. 16, “Brokeback” will face its real box office test when it opens in 21 more big cities, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Miami, San Diego, Seattle and Washington, D.C. and a trio of smaller markets where the film is expected to be well-received: Austin, Texas; Palm Springs; and Santa Barbara. “It’s very, very careful and clearly not overreaching,” Foley said. “What we want out of the second wave is to make this a national film in terms of awareness.” In all, the film will be booked into about 60 theaters by its second week. But Focus will stay at that level until Jan. 6, 2006, before expanding to 20 additional markets in order to avoid competing with such anticipated holiday blockbusters as “King Kong” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” “Chances are, this movie will be on a lot of (Top 10) lists at the end of December so by the time January comes around and it widens, everyone in those markets will have heard of this movie,” Pandya said. By Jan. 13, “Brokeback” will be playing in just over 100 markets. Regardless of how “Brokeback” fares at the box office or at the Oscars, it is already a “watershed” for gay and lesbian cinema, said Stephen Gutwillig, executive director of Outfest, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian film festival. “It’s a big deal,” Gutwillig said. “That it took Ang Lee, Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger and (Focus Features President) James Schamus coming together to make this really illustrates how hard it is for high-profile gay and lesbian material to be addressed. Studios just don’t make gay-themed films. The exceptions are high-end glossy stuff like ‘The Birdcage’ and ‘In & Out.”‘ Released in 1996, “The Birdcage” a comedy starring Robin Williams as a gay cabaret owner and Nathan Lane as his drag queen spouse, grossed just under $124 million domestically. “In & Out,” a comedy about a middle-aged Indiana schoolteacher (Kevin Kline) who finally realizes he’s gay after being kissed by a gay reporter (Tom Selleck), earned a solid $63.8 million at the domestic box office. “Birdcage,” “In & Out” and the 1993 drama “Philadelphia,” which won an Oscar for Tom Hanks as a gay lawyer with AIDS and grossed $77.3 million, all had one thing in common: They featured major stars in gay roles that required little or no physical intimacy. That was not the case more than a decade earlier when 20th Century Fox released “Making Love,” with love scenes between Harry Hamlin and Michael Ontkean. The story about a seemingly happy married young doctor who finally confronts his long-repressed attraction to other men grossed just under $12 million at the box office and was considered groundbreaking for its time. But “Making Love” did not lead to more gay films from the studios. Even last year’s expensive epic “Alexander,” directed by Oliver Stone and distributed by Warner Bros., shied away from any graphic love scenes between Colin Farrell’s Alexander the Great and Jared Leto’s character of Hephaestion. It has been the independent film industry, the film festival circuit and now DVD that has allowed the genre to grow. In last year’s “A Home at the End of the World,” Farrell had the physically intimate scenes with another man that “Alexander” lacked. But for the most part, even the most popular gay movies typically peak with about a $2 million gross or less. Farrell’s “Home,” for example, grossed just over $1 million. Other notable titles include 2000’s “The Broken Hearts Club” with Zach Braff, Timothy Olyphant and Dean Cain ($1.7 million); 1997’s “Love! Valour! Compassion!” ($2.9 million); 2000’s “Sordid Lives” ($1 million); and 1995’s “The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love” ($1.9 million). “There are really just handful of movies that have made more than $2 million,” said Gutwillig. “Most are independent films that have that threshold in part because they don’t have studio machines behind them.” From the independent film world, the highest grossers have included 1994’s “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” ($11 million) and 2001’s “Kissing Jessica Stein” ($7 million). “Brokeback” director Lee has already had some measure of success with gay-themed material with 1993’s “The Wedding Banquet,” his film about an closeted gay man who enters into a marriage of convenience to please his Chinese parents. “Banquet” grossed $6.9 million domestically and was a solid hit in foreign markets with an international take of $30 million. Even before its opening day, Gutwillig said “Brokeback” has already made an impact “to the extent everyone recognizes quality films deserve to be made and find an audience. Now it’s in the hands of the able marketers at Focus. But there are so few projects like this that you won’t really be able to blame anybody if it doesn’t work because they are inventing a wheel.” Greg Hernandez, (818) 713-3758 firstname.lastname@example.org!dtpost 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!