The Backstory on What Made '2016 Obama’s America' the Top Grossing Doc of 2012, 4th All-Time
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In January, DocumentaryTelevision.com commissioned a Presidential Inauguration Case Study: How an independent documentary about Barack Obama became the top-grossing doc of 2012, and the fourth highest grossing doc of all time. 2016 Obama’s America claims that the president secretly burns with the angry, anti-colonial ideology of the Kenyan father he barely knew, and that as president he will find a way to impose his radical vision on the American people.
How did this rightwing documentary earn a small box office fortune, ranking it with progressive documentary hits like Fahrenheit 9/11 and An Inconvenient Truth?
Gregory Crofton investigated the development, production and successful distribution of 2016. Gregory is a journalist who worked at the Documentary Channel until its recent takeover by Participant Media. The case study was first published here on DocumentaryTelevision.com. 2016 Obama’s America is a $2.5 million co-production by John Sullivan, Dinesh D’Souza and Gerald Molen.
Launched with the tagline “Love Him Hate Him, You Don’t Know Him,” 2016 has grossed around $35 million. Opening in limited release in July 2012 on one screen in Houston, it went into wide release in late August in 1,091 theaters, with its widest release in September reaching 2,017 theaters.
The key players behind 2016 were:
Dinesh D’Souza: 2016 is based on The Roots of Obama’s Rage. Published in 2010, it reached #4 on the New York Times Best Seller List. D’Souza is a conservative writer and author of Illiberal Education, Letters to a Young Conservative, and The Enemy at Home. D’Souza’s book and film claim to “present information that Americans hadn’t heard about.”
John Sullivan is a filmmaker and screenwriter based in Los Angeles. He co-produced and co-directed 2016 with D’Souza. He had produced Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, an attack on evolution science that grossed nearly $8 million at the box office.
Gerald Molen is an experienced Hollywood producer behind such hits as Schindler’s List and Jurassic Park. He was introduced to D’Souza’s project through a mutual friend of Sullivan’s. Molen helped ensure that 2016 was a compelling film that conveys this information in an entertaining way, according to Sullivan. And in a way that works on the big screen. He said it was important not to regurgitate a political book, but to make a compelling movie.
Rocky Mountain Pictures: Ron Rodgers and Randy Slaughter are based in Salt Lake City, and each have 400-plus years’ experience distributing and marketing films. RMP’s biggest documentary release prior to 2016 Obama’s America was Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.
Origins and Timeline
Sullivan met D’Souza through a mutual friend to discuss book/film opportunities. Sullivan proposed that Roots of Obama’s Rage would make a good film. Work on the film began in 2011. Sullivan didn’t finish the final edit until just prior to its premiere on one screen in Houston on July 13. They would have liked to release it in June but it wasn’t ready.
Unlike most filmmakers, the producers didn’t create a trailer to pitch potential funders. Instead, they relied on D’Souza’s bestselling book and his personal network to sell the film.
D’Souza raised the money, along with Douglas Sain and Christopher Williams, from a wide range of conservative contacts under a for-profit group called “Obama’s America Foundation.” About 24 investors contributed to the venture. According to the principals, “The Republican Party did not fund the film.”
The production budget was $2.5 million. The filmmakers wouldn’t disclose the cost of marketing and promotion.
The development process took about three months. According to the principals, “It was based on Dinesh's books.” Field production was about four months, with a lot of the work condensed in one trip to UK, Kenya, Indonesia and India, and the post-production phase was completed in about two months.