The Deacon's Bench

This is a fascinating peek at how Hollywood surprised itself — and a lot of other people — by making an old-fashioned movie about old-fashioned values and virtues. A lot of its success was the product of really smart marketing (and a standout performance by Sandra Bullock didn’t hurt):

Women may have been drawn both by Ms. Bullock — who had just posted a personal box office record with her comedy “The Proposal” — and by a story that was far more about a woman adopting a son than about football.

But once the movie was made — on a modest $35 million budget, about $5.5 million of which was recouped from Georgia tax incentives — churchgoing women and their families were also attracted with help from Grace Hill Media. This marketing company has been used by studios for years to bring such audiences to films like “Walk the Line,” “Elf” and “The Pursuit of Happyness.”

In this case Grace Hill took the unusual step of offering online sermon outlines based on “The Blind Side,” with clips that could be used in churches equipped with video screens. …About 23,000 churches downloaded the sermons, laying an exceptionally strong base for the film.

Black viewers, (producers) speculate, were drawn by the story’s emphasis on the durability and fundamental goodness of Michael Oher, the real-life football player portrayed by the newcomer Quinton Aaron. Mr. Aaron got his own publicity, with stories about how he had been working as a bodyguard in New York and shed 100 of his 475 pounds to work in the film.

For families there was also a substantial subplot, based on the relationship between Mr. Oher and the young S. J. Tuohy, portrayed by Jae Head.

Meanwhile, the country star Tim McGraw, who played a supporting role, may have brought some of the music crowd. The producers, according to Mr. Johnson, expected their film to play like “Walk the Line,” a music-oriented redemption story that had deep Southern roots and took in a solid $120 million for 20th Century Fox at the domestic box office after opening to a relatively modest $22 million in 2005.

“The Blind Side,” which opened against the formidable “Twilight Saga: The New Moon,” did much better than expected, with a boost from a sort of marketing “wiki” that left many separate groups — Christians, sports fans, mothers and academy voters among them — feeling as if they had a stake in the movie.

Check out the rest, including why Sandra Bullock thought she’d made a terrible mistake in accepting the role.

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