That might be next week's least likely headline. Along with "Romney Needs To Reign In His Passion" or "Yanks Enjoy Pitching Surplus, Give Red Sox 2 Top Prospects."
Everyone knows by now that The Hunger Games will be a massive hit when it opens on Friday. Online hysteria, ubiquitous magazine covers, breathless cast appearances -- the box office numbers around the world will be eye-popping and immense.
It always amazes me when something connects with people on such a large scale, and in the film business, it's rarefied air. Anyone who tells you that they can predict this is either lying or a movie producer.
Is this the recipe? Beloved, best-selling book. Built-in international audience. Inherently visual material. Movie stars. Established filmmakers. Enormous merchandising tie-ins and a global marketing push. Of course, that could easily describe The Cat In The Hat as well -- and we all know how that one turned out. The theatres are paved with failures: Eragon, The Golden Compass, Eat Pray Love, Water For Elephants, Love In The Time Of Cholera -- no matter the financials, the consensus seemed to be "they ruined a great book."
It's not just literary adaptations that engender such passion -- there are iconic tv shows, video games, movie remakes, toys, etc. The resulting films either makes people sleep in tents outside theatres or destroy the final product in anonymous online assassinations and stay away in droves.
At the risk of getting tarred and feathered, I'd say that the plot of The Hunger Games isn't all that original either. We've seen pieces of it -- dystopian society, reality tv has taken over, people fight each other to the death for survival/other's pleasure -- in many, many other films. That's not to say that the film won't be great, or that audiences who loved the books won't be thrilled with this adaptation. Nowadays, every single thing is scrutinized from the onset -- casting choices, the first images from the film, unofficial reviews of the work-in-progress; clearly, the folks behind The Hunger Games seem to have done everything right.
I admire the studio people who are under intense pressure to decide which of these films to make and how to execute them. It's the equivalent of the indie filmmaker who maxes out his credit cards -- except these cards have no limit and when the choices are wrong, it's not American Express who comes calling. It's Rupert Murdoch.
I had a movie that I was pitching to the studios, and it was well received by all. Smart script, starry cast, cool director, sensible budget -- a very solid package. I had several meetings at the studio that showed the most interest, and the moment of truth for any producer finally arrived -- getting the greenlight to make the film. The studio executive looked at me and said, "we love this project. We had marketing, international and distribution weigh in and ran all the numbers -- we're projecting a roughly $40m profit." $40m! As he rambled on about quadrants and demographics, I started daydreaming about how hard it would be to get Kate Upton on a private jet to Anguilla to discuss the situation in Iran -- or anything else she wanted to talk about, like swimsuits or hair. The executive finished his monologue with this gem: "So we're passing."
They were turning down what their very capable people had told them was an almost guaranteed hefty profit. Once the smoke cleared, (and I was quickly removed from the lot), I realized that their decision actually made sense. Major studios, owned by even larger corporations, literally can no longer afford to have modest hits. They need global phenomena to support their massive infrastructure. Harry Potter generated unimaginable profits. Twilight launched an entire studio. Who needs a movie that would make some money but had no chance at any kind of breakout revenue from licensing, merchandising, theme parks, etc.?
I've never been a part of a success like these films, but they're truly a wonder to behold. You hear the rumblings, start sensing something big might be growing, then all of a sudden the wave is upon us and it's glorious and majestic and all-consuming. It is all around you and literally shapes the cultural landscape. The Hunger Games has arrived.
Except when they fail. Then you make John Carter and lose $200m.
I think I'll stick to my little movies...
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