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Play the Game: Marketing a Senior Sex Comedy

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Play the Game is the little independent film that could -- and writer-director Marc Fienberg hopes it can do even more.

To be sure, Fienberg knows the odds against his independently distributed film -- opening Friday (8.28.09) in limited release -- but he also knows his audience.

"One of the reasons it's hard to get the studios' attention is they don't believe seniors go to see movies," Fienberg says in a phone interview. "But boomers and seniors see a lot more movies than other people. They don't make an appointment to go out because the movies aren't marketed to them. When you do market to them, they come out in droves."

That's what happened when the romantic comedy -- which stars Andy Griffith, Doris Roberts and Liz Sheridan -- tested in Florida earlier this year: A one-week engagement turned into a three-month run, earning almost $400,000.

On the heels of that success, Play the Game opens Friday in 50 theaters in 16 cities. With luck, it will expand to 200 theaters in almost 50 cities after that.

Fienberg is self-distributing -- and finding there's a market for a comedy that doesn't treat the elderly as shut-ins. Instead, this comedy about late-life romance deals in a gentle, occasionally bawdy, comic way with senior citizens jumping back into the dating pool.

The film was inspired by Fienberg's grandfather: "He started dating again at 89 and came to me for advice. It was kind of endearing to hear stories about him getting back into the dating world and having the same emotions as a kid in school."

Play the Game centers on a young car salesman, David (Paul Mitchell), who encourages his grandfather (Griffith) to try dating again, offering tips on how to attract a partner. Granddad finds himself swept up by a fellow resident of his nursing home (Sheridan), though he has his eye on another woman (Roberts).

The film lets Griffith, 83, handle slightly risque material, while dealing with senior sexuality in a way that's both funny and real. Griffith, Fienberg says, was eager to play the role.

"Andy liked it for two reasons," Fienberg says. "It gave him a bedroom scene. And he didn't die at the end."

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