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Read the Book? See the Movie: Freakonomics


News flash: Incentives matter.

In the spirit of the best-selling book Freakonomics, the producers of the film by the same name at first gave viewers the choice of paying very little or a lot to download the movie on iTunes.

The cost? Between 1 penny and $100. Of the 5,000 people in 10 cities who downloaded the movie, 34 percent paid 1 cent.

“It was great for our research,” said Steven J. Dubner, who wrote Freakonomics with University of Chicago economics professor Steven Levitt. “For the producers, not so good.”

Like the book, the film tackles the economic impact of unconventional subjects and what drives people. Among the topics are how a pro-life philosophy affects crime and how naming a kid an unusual name has financial consequences.

“We made 10s of dollars [on Freakonomics, the movie],” said producer Morgan Spurlock. And he wasn't kidding.

Freakononmics is distributed by Magnolia Pictures, a holding of 2929 Entertainment owned by Todd Wagner and entrepreneur Mark Cuban. Starting on Friday, the movie will be shown in theaters, where prevailing ticket prices apply.

“We thought it [letting the viewer pay only 1 penny] would be a fun experiment,” added Spurlock, who also was behind the documentary Super Size Me, about a man who eats only junk food—and packs on lots of pounds.

“And, frankly, we wanted the attention that doing a bold experiment like this would attract. We are not looking to reshape the paradigm.”

The book’s authors have done quite well, however. More than 4 million copies of the book have sold since the book was published five years ago. In addition to the film, Freakonomics the book led to another one, called Superfreakonomics, and to a New York Times blog, Freakonomics: The Hidden Side of Everything.

And yet another movie is planned, say the moviemakers.

Its title? Freakonomics 2, or 2 ½.

The film's producer is Morgan Spurlock, not Martin Spurlock, as was previously reported.

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