Since its July release, controversial SeaWorld documentary "Blackfish" — about the devastating consequences of keeping whales in captivity — has raked in $2 million at the box office.
The film, which premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and debuted on CNN in October, has now been seen by roughly 25 million viewers.
As a result of the documentary, 28% of Americans say they are less likely to visit SeaWorld, a handful of high profile musicians canceled gigs at the theme park, and SeaWorld shares have taken a beating as California considers passing a new bill banning the captivity of whales and dolphins.
But despite its obvious impact, "Blackfish" director Gabriela Cowperthwaite "hasn't made a penny" off the movie.
The 43-year-old filmmaker, who currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and twin sons, tells the L.A. Times' Amy Kaufman that she made "Zero" from the movie, despite spending the majority of her time promoting the film since its release last year.
"Blackfish" was acquired at Sundance by CNN and Magnolia Films for roughly $1 million, but all of the money went to paying back investors.
Cowperthwaite and her producing partner, Manny Oteyza, took initial funds from Judy Bart and Erica Kahn, who were looking for a way to break into the film business.
The investment was enough to fund the first few months of production, but with at least six more months left needed to complete the film, the financiers said they had no more money to give. Desperate to complete it, Cowperthwaite and Oteyza deferred a year's worth of salary so that Bart and Kahn could contribute enough to finish the film.
While Cowperthwaite admits she isn't a "business-minded shark," she could eventually get paid if "Blackfish" ends up making enough money through DVD and on-demand sales.
In the meantime, Cowperthwaite is already ready for her next project.
"I've been doing this for over a year now, and have come this far as a steward, which seems to have worked," she told the LA Times. "So I feel a kind of responsibility to keep steering this in the right direction. But just how do you continue to do that when in your heart of hearts you know that you should be moving on to your next film?"
Veteran documentary filmmaker Louie Psihoyos, whose dolphin slaughter flick, "The Cove," won an Oscar in 2010, echoes her sentiments.
"Gabriela is now part of the vortex we all get swept up in," he says. "When you start to realize that you have the potential to really move the needle forward on big issues, it feeds you in ways that can be much more profound than just getting a paycheck."
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