When it comes to promoting his new thriller to an atheist audience, writer/director Matthew Chapman isn’t waiting on a miracle.
The "long-time atheist and pro-science activist" does has faith that an underserved audience, atheists, will support The Ledge, out today from IFC Films, the same way believers support the Christian film industry. Even though he was never as dogmatic in his marketing.
"IFC was neither for nor against marketing The Ledge as the work of an atheist," Chapman tells Fast Company via email. "I think they believed, rightly, that you can see the film as a flat-out thriller which just happens to be propelled by an argument between an atheist and a believer, or you can see the argument as central."
The Ledge is about an atheist named Gavin (Charlie Hunnam) who is about to commit suicide because of a dispute with Joe (Patrick Wilson), a Christian. At the middle of it all is Shana (Liv Tyler) and a policeman named Hollis (Terrence Howard), who is trying to get to the bottom of the matter before it's too late. With grave matters of life and death and morals clearly at play, you might forget this is a pro-atheism film. Christians don't have the exclusive on those matters, Chapman argues with the film. But that's admittedly a hard sell for some audiences. Exhibit A: the film adaptation of the first book in Philip Pullman's famous His Dark Materials series, The Golden Compass. It incited protests and some buzz, in part, because of roles played by Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, and Sir Ian McKellen. But it was a domestic flop.
Even outside of the grassroots Christian filmmaking world, studios are taking on movies with varying levels of overt religious themes, from The Blind Side to Soul Surfer. Frequently, these movies are marketed to churches, with suggestions for sermons and talking points for later. One marketing firm, Grace Hill Media, specializes in targeting the religious audience, going as far as to provide a half-dozen clips from The Blind Side, paired with "sermon outlines," to 22,000 megachurches, where the films would be shown on huge screens, according to The Daily Beast.
There's no similar organization for atheists. So Chapman turned to the Internet to spread the message about his movie. "I made it clear to IFC that I was happy with the way they were marketing The Ledge—as a somewhat provocative thriller—but that I believed I had a unique access and expertise that they lacked."
Chapman's site urges people to see The Ledge in NYC or Los Angeles at the "test run" theaters, either alone or in groups. It's also available on demand and through iTunes or Sundance Now. It encourages viewers to get involved through Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and even encourages bloggers to "create a controversy!" with suggested topic ideas.
Whether or not these strategies will help the film gain traction is another matter altogether. "I have worked hard to reach out to non-believers, agnostics, and people questioning the concept of faith, but there's no reason why a believer or someone who doesn't think a lot about religion should not enjoy the film just as a thriller," Chapman says.