The future of Hollywood franchises is international and it is female, producers agreed this afternoon on the Studio Tentpoles panel at the PGA’s Produced By Conference. “I think Hollywood was too stupid to figure that out for a while” said The Hunger Games producer Nina Jacobson, citing the recent success of the her own new franchise and The Twilight Saga as examples of female-driven blockbusters. “I think that there will be something really big that will reverse engineer itself for the American market,” said Transformers and Red producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, taking a different perspective and noting the changing nature of the French film industry toward more populist fare. “It’s going to come at us and I think that will be a good thing.” Jacobson also lamented Hollywood’s pursuit of what she called the “fanboy” audience. “Can you think, between movies, TV, video games and porn, any audience that has a shorter attention span?” she asked. She pointed out that women are the primary economic decision-makers in most households. Di Bonaventura and Jacobson were joined on the panel by The Hangover movies’ director Todd Phillips and “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” producer Debra Martin Chase. Former Warner Bros executive Kevin McCormick, producer of the upcoming Gangster Squad, moderated the panel. Philips declined to say anything about the plot of The Hangover 3 except that it is “not going to be another forgotten night.”
Both Jacobson and Di Bonaventura talked about the risk of losing your audience when you start to change a successful blockbuster. “When you mess with the alchemy, you mess with what the audience likes,” said the Transformers producer, noting the “soul searching” he and others on the robot blockbuster had to do following the departure of Megan Fox. Addressing the departure of director Gary Ross from The Hunger Games sequel, Jacobson, who previously had praised Ross’ capturing of the right tone as helping to make the film such a hit, admitted “it’s scary to change.” She added “when Gary left I thought ‘this is what a producer does’ – you have to adapt and figure out how to turn risk into opportunity.”
While opinions varied about the future of franchises, there was no dissent among the producers on Hollywood’s voracious appetite for franchises nor what makes one, be it based on a best seller like the Harry Potter or The Hunger Games books, a comic like Marvel’s The Avengers or completely original – it’s all character and tone. “Fundamentally this is what the Avengers have done well,” said Jacobson, a former head of production at of Disney. “They have put a tremendous amount of time into developing the characters.” While expressing concern about the “first or die” opening weekend mentality in the industry, Di Bonaventura said the best strategy is to create a successful movie first and a franchise second. “I can’t think of anything I went into thinking it was a franchise. The Matrix wasn’t that, Harry Potter wasn’t that, I just wanted to make one good film,” the former Warner Bros. president of worldwide production told the audience. “I think the second movie, if you get one, is where you build the franchise.” Chase noted that all potential franchises should look to the example of “the ultimate franchise” of James Bond, the most successful of them all. “It is a case study of how to build a franchise and maintain it over years,” she said. At the same time all agreed that blockbusters based on bestsellers carry their own set of risks because fans can have such a strict sense of what the movie should be and who the characters are. No one mentioned the box office failure of Disney’s John Carter, and Universal’s Battleship was mentioned only in passing, but they were certainly the pink elephants in the room today. “The idea that you are designing a franchise from the first one has led to some of the worst films we’ve all seen,” cautioned Jacobson. “I think audiences reject being told something is a franchise or a hit.”
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