January 25, 2015 | Updated at 11:31 PM EST 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

WWE

WWE 'Royal Rumble 2015' LIVE STREAM: Watch Brock Lesner Battle John Cena & Seth Rollins Online

Find out who will enter the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match at WrestleMania

Miss Universe

Watch Miss Universe 2015 In Live Stream

It's almost time for Miss Universe 2015 and there is a link where viewers can watch the show in a live stream.

Robert Scott Wilson

Which Characters Could Be Cut From 'Days of Our Lives?' FInd Out Here

There's a chance that some of the faces fans have gotten used to seeing Salem could soon disappear on Days of Our Lives.

Jessa Duggar

Is Jessa Duggar Pregnant?

There's a good chance that Jessa Duggar might already be pregnant and that she's just waiting for the right moment to make an announcement.

Bow Wow, Erica Mena

Cyn Santana Proves On Instagram She Has A New 'Bae' Too After Erica Mena Split, 'Saved It For The Right One'

Erica Mena and Bow Wow's wedding planning has definitely been overshadowed by all of the drama stemming from her split with Love & Hip Hop New York co-star, Cyn Santana. Santana dished on her breakup with Mena and made it clear Mena's not the only one who has moved on.

The cast of 'Red Band Society' a new Fall 2014 Drama Series on FOX

Could Fans Still Potentially Save 'Red Band Society' Despite Its Being Cancelled?

Fans were devastated to learn that after the final three episodes of Red Band Society air the series would be over, but that hasn't kept them from still trying to see if there is any way possible to get the show revived and back on the air.

Amina Buddafly

Amina On Peter Gunz's Romantic Vacation With Tara Wallace, 'I've Moved On'

Fans have been waiting to see Amina's reaction to her husband, Peter Gunz, secretly going to a romantic family vacation with his ex-girlfriend, Tara Wallace on VH1's Love & Hip Hop New York.

Beau Kayzer

'Young And The Restless' Actor Beau Kazer Passes Away At 63

Young and the Restless star Beau Kazer has passed away at the age of 63.

Longmire

'Longmire' Star Shares Photo From The Set

Production begins for the fourth season of 'Longmire' in March, and to get everyone excited Katee Sackhoff has decided to share a photo from the set.

Miss Universe

Watch Miss Universe 2015 In Live Stream

It's almost time for Miss Universe 2015 and there is a link where viewers can watch the show in a live stream.

Bow Wow, Erica Mena

Rich Dollaz Slams 'Conniving' Erica Mena After He Gives Her Relationship Advice, 'You're A Liar'

Actor Bow Wow and Erica Mena are going strong but fans might have been shocked when she confided in her ex-boyfriend Rich Dollaz for advice on how to deal with her then girlfriend Cyn Santana on Love & Hip Hop New York.

Kim Matula

Will The New Hope Logan Soon be Announced For 'The Bold and the Beautiful?'

Her character has been off the canvas for just over a month now, and fans of The Bold and the Beautiful are dying to know who will be replacing Kim Matula as Hope Logan.

The Dovekeepers

See 10 Photos Making Us Really Excited For 'The Dovekeepers'

Executive producer Roma Downey steadily posted photos from the set on Instagram getting fans excited for the premiere.

Amish Mafia

'Amish Mafia' Officially Returning For Final Season In February

It's official-the upcoming season of Amish Mafia will be the show's last.

Latest News

Agents of SHIELD

What Is Bobbi Morse's Secret On 'Agents Of SHIELD'? Nick Blood Teases Shocking Twists

Find out how long it will take before the truth is revealed.

Miss Universe

63rd Miss Universe Winner: Miss Columbia Paulina Vega Takes The Crown

Vega speaks about reasons for entering pageant.

Miss Universe

The Miss Universe Pageant Stuns With Extravagant Costumes This Year

This year's Miss Universe Pageant is definitely one for the record books.

Patricia Arquette

See the Full List Of Winners At The Screen Actors Guild Awards 2015

The Screen Actors Guild Awards took place on Sunday night and here is a list of winners who took home the special prize for their talented work this year.

Ciara

Ciara Says She Worked Hard To Get Her Pre-Baby Body Back

Unlike many other celebrity moms in the entertainment world, Ciara is being completely honest about how she got back her post-baby body after giving birth to her son Future back in May.

Alina Kovalevskaya

Human Barbie Alina Kovalevskaya Dyes Her Hair Purple, Check Out The PHOTO

Alina Kovalevskaya, known as one of the famous human Barbie dolls, has taken on a colorful new 'do.

Amal Alamuddin

Amal Clooney Reportedly Wants To Start A Family

It looks as though we might be seeing a little Clooney baby this year after all.

Andi Dorfman

Are Andi Dorfman & Josh Murray Getting Back Together?

Andi Dorfman and Josh Murray might no longer be on speaking terms, but it looks as though the two are definitely sending each other messages on social media.

Baby Daddy

'Baby Daddy' Crosses Over With 'General Hospital' In New Released Images

'Baby Daddy' is about to cross over with another hit television series in what should be a pretty entertaining episode of the ABC family series.

Real World Skeletons

How Does Alyssa React To Tony & Elizabeth's Hook-Up On 'Real World: Skeletons?'

Things are about to get pretty wild on 'Real World: Skeletons' when Tony and Elizabeth get some privacy for a steamy good time.

Featured Videos

From Our Partners

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

Borderlands The Pre-Sequel Third DLC Announced At PAX South: Playable Lady Hammerlock Releases Soon

At today's Gearbox Panel at the inaugural PAX South, 2K and Gearbox Software announced the third add-on content for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, which will star Aurelia Hammerlock, Sir Hammerlock's sister. She's a sniper- take a look at her skill tree here!

Destiny

Destiny House Of Wolves Expansion Will Try Not To Frustrate Veteran Players, According To Bungie Employee

Destiny's The Dark Below expansion added hours of content to the game, but also introduced new complications. Bungie will try to avoid the same mistakes with the upcoming House of Wolves expansion, according to recent comments.

Marco Fabian

Leones Negros vs. Chivas Guadalajara, Live Stream Free Online: Liga MX Clausura 2015, Projected Lineups and Tactical Preview

Two clubs chasing the Clausura Liga MX title will do battle today in a league match between Leones Negros and Chivas Guadalajara. The first-division clash scheduled for 6 p.m. ET will be held at the Estadio Jalisco in Guadalajara. It can be live streamed here free and via the Univision Deportes mobile app. Additional TV coverage can be found on Univision Deportes.

Tony Romo

NFL PRO BOWL Watch FREE Live Stream Online & Listen: Team Irvin vs Team Cater

Tonight at 8:00 p.m. from Glendale, Arizona on ESPN the finest the NFL has to offer, minus any New England Patriots or Seattle Seahawks, will take the field at the University of Phoenix Stadium for the NFL Pro Bowl. Live stream the all-star action free by clicking this link.

Nick Foligno, Ryan Johansen

NHL ALL-STAR GAME 2015 Watch FREE Live Stream Online: Team Toews vs. Team Foligno in Columbus

Today at 5 p.m. ET, the National Hockey League presents the 60th annual All-Star Game live from the Columbus Blue Jackets home rink of the Nationwide Arena in Columbus. The game can be live streamed for free here.

PlanetSide 2

Planetside 2 News: Biggest Online FPS Battle Record Set With Over 1,000 Active Players Involved

Planetside 2 players set out to break a record for the most active online players this weekend, and it seems that they succeeded.

Roman Reigns

Royal Rumble 2015 Results: Roman Reigns Wins 30-Man Match, The Rock Returns and Lesnar Retains Gold

Roman Reigns is going to WrestleMania 31. The WWE presented the 28th annual Royal Rumble tonight live from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and in the end Reigns stood tall after last eliminating Rusev. The Final Four was Reigns, The Big Show, Kane and Rusev.

South Korea

South Korea vs. Iraq Live Stream Online: 2015 AFC Asian Cup Semifinals, Projected Lineups and Tactical Preview

Two teams chasing the 2015 Asian Cup will do battle today in a match between South Korea and Iraq. The semifinal clash scheduled for 4 a.m. ET will be held at ANZ Stadium in Sydney and can be live streamed here. Additional TV coverage can be found on One World Sports.

Real Time Analytics