Feb 19 2014, 12:29pm CST | by Forbes
As a best-selling winner of Hugo and Nebula Awards, not to mention written by an author who is virtually a household name among sci-fi fans, Ender’s Game feels like a no-brainer candidate for adaptation. And particularly given Hollywood’s current obsession with uncovering the next blockbuster Young Adult franchise, it seems like investors would be lining up in droves to bankroll the first installment in what could become a series of as many as 16 films.
But according to writer-director Gavin Hood, he struggled to secure financing for the project. More specifically, Hood and a small group of collaborators had to scrounge together enough money to create a “proof of concept” reel to sell the film to investors before they could go into production, much less sell the finished product to audiences.
“The team is small, and you’re starting out with the script and how you’re going to visualize it,” Hood explained at the recent press day for the Ender’s Game Blu-ray, which was released Feb. 11. “At this stage the movie is not financed. There’s this little team, and we don’t have much money.”
“This is an indie movie,” he said. “Probably the biggest indie movie ever made.”
After determining that the film’s zero-gravity battle theater would be the centerpiece of their presentation, Hood worked with visual effects supervisor Matthew Butler to create a $25,000 “sizzle reel” where Ender gears up for a combat session. “We’ve got this little, little bit of money, and we’ve got to show how the battle room is going to work,” he remembered. “It has to be amazing. We have to make a 45-second teaser to take to Cannes to show to foreign buyers and get them excited so they’ll prebuy the movie.
“So we were working at that stage towards a little 45-second teaser that we hoped would make people go wow, zero gravity in space can work.”
The only hitch with producing that teaser? Nobody was officially signed on to the movie yet – not even Hood. “I was not on payroll then,” he admitted. “Sir Ben [Kingsley] was working at a very reduced rate. Everybody was trying to do what they needed to do… we pulled a lot of favors.”
Even with Card’s words – and the acclaim they received in the decades since first being published — providing a vivid foundation for the filmmakers to work from, Hood said that he knew he needed something tangible to show potential investors so they had a sense of what the final product would look like. “Illustrations, like of the kids in the battle room, are really important when you’re trying to sell what you’re trying to do to your producers,” he said.
“If they’re like, ‘Well, what does thing look like?’ you can’t snap your fingers and have it. You’ve got to go through this process, and then you show them – this is where we’re going.”
Given the limits of their budget, not to mention the absence of a cast, Hood and his collaborators knew they wouldn’t be able to create footage that was as photorealistic as the images would appear in the final film. But at the same time, they had to produce something distinctive and at least close to what they hoped to achieve, if for no other reason than to quell the skepticism of money men and –women who might worry that what they were watching in the presentation would be identical, flaws and all, to what ended up in the movie.
“What’s tricky when you’re selling, because that’s what you’re doing, is if you show something too rough, people who are not familiar with this or don’t know it freak out, they go, ‘Oh – is that what it’s going to look like? It’s horrible’,” Hood said. “And so you’ve got to choose your moments very carefully, and you want to do one or two great pieces of concept art – here’s a beautiful image of those kids — so they go, ‘oh, that’s what we’re doing’.”
Eventually, Hood and co. were able to secure more than $110 million in financing, which brought those investors some $112 million in receipts, suggesting that the adaptation wasn’t quite the box office slam dunk that it seemed like it might be. Notwithstanding its prospects on home video, it remains to be determined whether Orson Scott Card’s personal politics affected audience interest, or moviegoers simply didn’t warm to the movie in a way the filmmakers might have hoped. But Ender’s Game highlights a Hollywood lesson as valuable as any intellectual property: in order to get your voice heard, you will ultimately have to put your money where your mouth is.
Source: Forbes Business
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