July 03, 2015 | Updated at 05:20 PM EDT The Latest Entertainment & Celebrity News

How Lionsgate Won 'Hunger Games'

Little Lions Gate Entertainment beat out its bigger and better funded rivals to win the right to make a film of "The Hunger Games," which opens on Friday with blockbuster expectations.

Reuters on Mar 23, 2012 08:57 AM EDT
facebook tweet this pin it plus
Sign Up for Newsletter
  • Alexander Ludwig
  • Cast member Alexander Ludwig poses at the premiere of "The Hunger Games" at Nokia theatre in Los Angeles, Calif. (March 12, 2012) (Photo : Reuters)

(Reuters) - Little Lions Gate Entertainment beat out its bigger and better funded rivals to win the right to make a film of "The Hunger Games," which opens on Friday with blockbuster expectations.

Personal appeals for the rights began back in 2009, with schmoozing that included calls from Lions Gate CEO Jon Feltheimer and vice-chairman Michael Burns to "Hunger Games" author Suzanne Collins.

But what really sealed the deal for Collins was the assurance that Lions Gate would stay true to her novel, set in a dystopian future where a totalitarian state televises fights to the death by teenagers.

"They had everyone but the valet call us," said Jason Dravis, who has represented the 49-year-old author since her days as a staff writer for animated TV shows in the early 90s.

"When Tim Palen, their head of marketing, told us he had mapped out exactly how they would market it, she felt it would be in good hands."

For Lions Gate, which won its Hollywood reputation by producing lower budget horror flicks and Tyler Perry films, "The Hunger Games" represents its biggest opportunity yet to prove it can develop a blockbuster franchise film with mass appeal.

The movie is expected to post an outsized $100 million or more in ticket sales in its first weekend. According to Evercore Partners analyst Alan Gould, the film could exceed the box office performance of the first installment of the teen vampire franchise "Twilight," which grossed $392.6 million worldwide in 2008. Twilight was made by Summit Entertainment, which was acquired by Lions Gate in February.

"The Hunger Games" first appeared on Hollywood's radar in early 2009, recalls Joe Drake, the president of Lions Gate's studio who green lit the project. At the time the book had sold less than 100,000 copies, he says.

But there was a strong buzz it was on the brink of breaking out, and studio executives eager to find the next "Twilight" seized on it. Since then, the franchise has grown to three books with U.S. sales of more than 24 million copies.

At the time, the book was being shopped around Hollywood by Nina Jacobson, a former Walt Disney studio president who had a handshake deal with Collins after "30 or 40" producers had expressed interest, says her literary agent, Dravis, even though he hadn't sent out copies of the book, as is customary.

To get an edge on other producers in the Collins sweepstakes, Jacobson enlisted director Peter Hedges, with whom she worked on the movie "Dan in Real Life" while at Disney. Hedges had attended a writers' workshop in North Carolina with Collins a few years earlier, and Jacobson pressed him to emphasize that Collins could trust her.

But the big factor working in Jacobson's favor was that "she had worked on big franchises before," Dravis said. "This novel had the potential to get very dark very quickly and she understood how to keep it from doing that."

By March, Jacobson had interest from Warner Brothers; New Regency, which produces films for Fox; and Spyglass Entertainment, which had produced "The Sixth Sense" and "Star Trek," among others, and whose managers have since merged with and manage MGM.

During the bake off for the rights to the property, Lions Gate not only matched the offers from New Regency and others, but also offered Collins a piece of the film's profits, says Drake. The studio went a step further, said Dravis, also promising to let her be part of the screenwriting team and to protect her "vision" of what the movie should be.

Collins and director Gary Ross wrote the final script together, says Dravis, and the author received a screenplay credit.

"We called her Mother Hunger Games," says Alli Shearmur, Lions Gate's president of motion picture production, who had championed the film and pressed Drake to make the picture.

Drake also knew he had a sales job ahead of him to overcome a certain squeamishness about the studio. "She knew that we were the studio that had made (the horror series) 'Saw,'" he said. "We told her that it was also important to us that we maintained what had made her book so popular."

While Lions Gate was negotiating to acquire the franchise it was simultaneously fending off investor Carl Icahn, who had taken a 14.5 percent stake and would the following year launch an unsuccessful proxy fight to elect five board members to the studio's board of directors.

Ichan had criticized Lions Gate for straying from its business model of small-budget films to make riskier and more expensive productions, but execs Feltheimer and Burns saw "The Hunger Games" as a key part of their plan to make franchise movies that spawn sequels, spinoffs and merchandise sales.

"The Hunger Games gives us the rare opportunity to take an exciting brand with a built-in frequent filmgoing audience and construct it from the ground up into a potential franchise," Feltheimer said in an August 2009 earnings call with analysts.

The film was budgeted at $88 million, which Lions Gate reduced to $80 million by receiving tax credits in return for filming in North Carolina. The studio then sold off the distribution rights in foreign markets other than Britain to reduce its cost to about $30 million. That reduces the risk, but also limits the amount of money Lions Gate would get from overseas sales.

To reach the film's core audience of younger viewers, its $45 million marketing budget made aggressive use of the Internet, including a game on Facebook, YouTube videos and a blog on the site Tumblr dedicated to the film's fashion.

With every "Hunger Games" magazine cover, Lions Gate's stock seemed to soar. In the six weeks leading up to the film, its share price had skyrocketed by 43 percent, from $10.95 on February 8 to $15.68 as of March 21.

Estimating the movie's opening weekend has become a Hollywood parlor game, starting at $70 million two weeks before its opening night and now reaching as high as $125 million, which is what Phil Contrino, editor of Boxoffice.com, forecasts for its total take this weekend.

"It's like the Lions Gate stock price," said Paul Dergarabedian, head of the box office division of Hollywood.com. "It keeps going up every day."

© 2015 Enstarz, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Tagged :   Movies
facebook tweet this pin it plus
Contribute to this Story send us a tip send us a tip send us a tip
Sign Up for Newsletters

Around The Web

  • SEARCH ENSTARS

Sawyer Fredericks

'The Voice' Winner's California Trip Just Became 'A Little More Interesting,' But Why?

Peep pictures from Sawyer Fredericks' 'interesting' trip to Los Angeles. They are not typical photos from the studio...

Longmire

'Longmire' Star Louanne Stephens 'Saying Goodbye' To Robert Taylor

Ruby is sharing her last scenes with the sheriff for season 4.

Sawyer Fredericks

'The Voice' Champ Sawyer Fredericks Is Destined To Be The Show's First Superstar

As if you need to be reminded, here are five reasons we think The Voice's Sawyer Fredericks is destined to be the show's first superstar.

Jamie Dornan

Jamie Dornan Loses 'Rear Of The Year' Honor

Jamie Dornan doesn't have the best butt in Britain, apparently.

Maya and Nicole receive a massive shock when their mother arrives in L.A. on the July 3, 2015 episode of 'The Bold and the Beautiful'

Maya & Nicole Are Stunned by A Surprise Visitor On 'The Bold and the Beautiful'

Their lives will once again flip upside down when their mother arrives in Los Angeles.

BET Awards

Here's How You Can Watch The 2015 BET Awards Live Online

BET airs it's annuals awards show tonight at 8 p.m. EST/ 7 p.m. CST. Here's how you can keep up with all the action online for free.

Sawyer Fredericks

'The Voice' Champ Sawyer Fredericks Is Destined To Be The Show's First Superstar

As if you need to be reminded, here are five reasons we think The Voice's Sawyer Fredericks is destined to be the show's first superstar.

Abby Lee Miller

Is Maddie Ziegler Quitting 'Dance Moms?'

Maddie Ziegler might not be back for season six of 'Dance Moms.'

Karlie Redd

Karlie Redd Possibly Laughs Off Reprots Joseline Hernandez Gave Her A Beat Down

Karlie Redd might wants fans to know that there's no truth in rumors that Joseline Hernandez beat her up, but some fans aren't buying it. Read more to find out why.

Sawyer Fredericks

Latest 'Voice' Winner Shares Pictures From The Studio With His 'Enthusiastic Team'

Peep pictures from the studio with 'Voice' winner Sawyer Fredericks!

Martha Madison

Martha Madison Will Return For The 'Days Of Our Lives' 50th Anniversary

Martha Madison has officially confirmed her plans to bring her character back.

Katrina Kaif & Ranbir Kapoor

Katrina Kaif & Ranbir Kapoor Spotted At Birthday Bash

Bollywood stars Katrina Kaif and Ranbir Kapoor were spotted in Mumbai celebrating actor Arjun Kapoor's birthday.

Sawyer Fredericks & Others

Who Does The Latest 'Voice' Winner's Mom Regard As 'Absolutely Wonderful' From The Show?

Sawyer Fredericks' mom Kirsten recently dished some deets about her son's upcoming album and more.

Longmire

'Longmire' Star Louanne Stephens 'Saying Goodbye' To Robert Taylor

Ruby is sharing her last scenes with the sheriff for season 4.

Sawyer Fredericks

'The Voice' Season 8 Winner Is Out In Los Angeles Working On His Album!

Find out how the first few days of production on the latest 'Voice' winner's album is going.

Latest News

Agent Carter

Will The Winter Soldier Program Come Into Play On 'Agent Carter'?

After teasing Zola's project in season 1, execs talk moving forward in season 2

Outlander

Black Jack Trauma 'Reverberates' Through Claire & Jamie's 'Outlander' Relationship, EP Teases Fallout

Jack is in the past, but his sadistic torture will keep Jamie preoccupied for some time

Meghan Linsey

Where Is 'Voice' Contestant Meghan Linsey Performing On July 4th?

Find out the deets about 'Voice' Season 8 runner-up Meghan Linsey's 4th of July performance!

Forrest Gump, 1994, Starring Tom Hanks, Robin Wright and Gary Sinise

8 Movies To Get You Feeling Patriotic This 4th of July

These eight movies will surely get you celebrating the United States of America.

Eric Decker & Jessie James Decker

Jessie James Decker Enjoys Babymooon, Shares Bikini Bump Photo

See the latest photo of Jessie James Decker's baby bump.

Aaron Hernandez

Aaron Hernandez's First-Degree Murder Conviction Stands

Earlier this week the judge that oversaw the murder trial seeking justice for Odin Lloyd ruled against Aaron Hernandez and his lawyers' wishes.

Deena Cortese

Deena Cortese Is 'Not A Size 0' & She's Okay With That

Deena Cortese loves her body at any size.

Bezzerides and Woodrugh pay the Mayor's family a visit on the July 5, 2015 episode of 'True Detective'

Will Bezzerides Go Too Far On 'True Detective?'

Her tactics could lan her in some big trouble.

'Flex & Shanice' Cast

Watch The 'Worth It' Flash Mob That Really Impressed Fifth Harmony's Normani

Normani Kordei Hamilton may be on vacation, but a 'Worth It' flash mob from the cast of 'Flex & Shanice' caught her eye on social media!

Leah Messer

Leah Messer Shares Happy Memes On Facebook, No Longer Depressed?

Leah Messer has shared a couple of inspiring messages with fans on Facebook.

Featured Videos

From Our Partners

Bryce Harper

GIANTS vs NATIONALS Watch FREE Live Stream Online & Listen: San Francisco at Washington Preview

The Giants and Nationals open up a three-game 4th of July weekend series live from Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

Kobe Bryant

Lamarcus Aldridge, Kobe Bryant Beef? Did Laker Star's Twitter PHOTO Deter Free Agent Prize Away From LA? [Video]

With time running out on Kobe Bryant’s career perhaps it’s time he changes his ways.

Alstom Open de France 2015

PGA European Tour Leaderboard: Alstom Open de France 2015, Round 1 Recap, Highlights and Scores [VIDEO]

The second day of the 2015 Alstom Open de France came to a close on Friday, with Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Victor Dubuisson and Martin Kaymer tying for the lead.

Peru National Team

Peru vs. Paraguay Live Stream Free Online: Copa America 3rd Place Match, Projected Lineups and Tactical Preview

Two teams chasing third place in the 2015 Copa America will do battle today in a match between Peru and Paraguay. The South American clash scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET will be held at the Estadio Municipal in Concepcion and can be live streamed here. Additional TV coverage can be found on beIN Sports.

Lana

Rusev & Summer Rae WWE Rumors: Lana Discusses Catfight With Summer On RAW [VIDEO]

Lana talked about her catfight with Summer Rae on 'RAW' and said Rusev "doesn't treat women right."

Thibaut Pinot

Tour De France 2015: Where To Watch & What To Know About The World's Most Grueling Bike Race

Independence Day is a time for hot dogs, fireworks and celebration in the United States, but this year in France July 4 means the beginning of the world's most famous bike race. The Tour De France will kick off from Utrecht tomorrow, and it can be live streamed for free by clicking this link.

Conor McGregor

UFC 189 Rumors: Conor McGregor To Prepare For Chad Mendes With 'As Much Sex As Possible'? [VIDEO]

Conor McGregor has lots of sex before big fights, and would dismantle Floyd Mayweather.

U.S. Men's National Team

USA vs. Guatemala Live Stream Free Online: International Friendly, Projected Lineups and Tactical Preview

Two nations looking to return to form will do battle today in an international friendly between the United States and Guatemala. The match scheduled for 7 p.m. ET will be held at Nissan Stadium in Nashville and can be live streamed here free. Additional TV coverage can be found on Fox Sports 1.

Triple H

WWE 'NXT Takeover: Brooklyn' Rumors: Triple H Announces 'SummerSlam' Eve Show [VIDEO]

Triple H revealed that the WWE will invade the Big Apple on the eve of 'SummerSlam' for 'NXT Takeover: Brooklyn' on Aug. 22.

Brock Lesnar

WWE Network Schedule & Rumors: Predictions For 'Beast In The East' July 4 Event [VIDEO]

As America celebrates July 4, the WWE will deliver 'Beast in the East' in Japan. Here are our predictions.

Real Time Analytics