"What are you doing here?" demanded Bill Condon, who is about to be set free from "Twilight" jail, having directed the last two in the series of five that has generated $2.5 billion worldwide so far. "This isn't an Oscar movie!"
"I always go to 'Twilight' premieres," I told him. "It's a ritual." Back at ShoWest in 2007, new Summit co-chairman Rob Friedman tipped me to Stephenie Meyer's new young adult franchise about teenage vampires. It sounded commercial to me. And so it was as I tracked Summit's progress into production with Catherine Hardwicke, young leads Kristen Stewart and Rob Pattinson, and eventually, four sequels of varying quality directed by Chris Weitz, David Slade and Condon. Summit masterfully manipulated the media (especially cheerleaders EW Magazine and MTV) and what became known as Twihards; they fanned the flames and milked the series for all it was worth, rushing each installment out, trying to reach fanboys as well as women and girls (with worst results on "New Moon"). But Condon got them back on track, offering a mix of operatic melodrama and action.
In the "Breaking Dawn" finale, the love story of Edward and Bella is still front and center; Bella is a new vampire mom with glowing eyes who has to learn how to control her strength and bloodthirsty urges as she meets her half human/half vampire daughter Renesmee. (Stewart talks about the role here.) The filmmakers struggled with how to show the child, who grows swiftly from infant to little girl. They felt strongly that she should have the same face as actress Mackenzie Foy and opted for "Benjamin Button" CG face replacement. Well, Condon is no David Fincher. Summit spent a ton of money and anxiety on that CG baby, whch looks creepy. They should have used a real one.
What they did right is a gory battle sequence that puts the audience on edge--they roared with disbelief at the premiere at LA Live Monday night-- because it's not handled the way it was in the books. 'Nuff said. (UPDATE: Here's Variety's review.)
Thus the entire gang moves on. What's next? Willowy Saoirse Ronan was on hand talking to a svelte Meyer about her new movie "The Host," Andrew Niccol's dystopian thriller that she promoted at Comic-Con last July; it opens March 2013.
In the post-"Twilight" universe, the now-merged Lionsgate/Summit is leaning on another young adult series, "The Hunger Games" trilogy, which has grossed nearly $650 million worldwide. The Francis Lawrence-directed "Catching Fire" is already in production with another two-part finale ramping up, also directed by Lawrence. Lionsgate has movie rights to several other young adult franchises, most notably Veronica Roth's "Divergent" trilogy, set in a dystopian Chicago. Lionsgate/Summit production chief Erik Feig, who discovered "Twilight," picked up the rights before "Divergent" became a young adult bestseller--selling more quickly than 'Twilight." Other possibilities include Erin Morgenstern's "The Night Circus," and Patrick Ness' "Chaos Walking" trilogy.
Lionsgate also has coming up "Star Trek" co-writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman producing Orson Scott Card's fantasy "Ender's Game," starring Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley (November 1, 2013).
Kristen Stewart is pushing her sultry role in "On the Road," which played well at AFI FEST, trimmed down from the version that met mixed response at Cannes. Still to come, Stewart is attached to both Scott Cooper's "Lie Down in Darkness" and writer-director Glenn Ficarra and John Requa's "Focus" which has Ben Affleck attached to star.
Rob Pattinson changed out of his green suit before coming to the party wearing a more casual red sweater and baseball cap, saying he has three movies to shoot before he even gets to "Queen of the Desert," in which he plays T.E. Lawrence opposite Naomi Watts' Gertude Bell. "I wanted to work with Werner Herzog," he told me. He has no idea if he'll go blond to play Lawrence of Arabia. And the role is being expanded for him. Still to come, Pattinson is attached to David Michod's "The Rover," James Marsh's "Hold on to Me," David Cronenberg's "Maps to the Stars" and Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire's "Mission: Blacklist."
Taylor Lautner has the most to lose going forward. His manager told me that they're looking to place him in supporting roles in strong ensembles with top-notch directors. Yes, that is the best strategy. Luckily, "Stretch Armstrong" has gone by the wayside. Still to come, Lautner is attached to actioneer "Tracers," untitled projects with Michael Bay and Gus van Sant, and he has a small part in "Grown Ups 2."
Bill Condon is prepping and casting his next, the DreamWorks WikiLeaks movie about whistleblower Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his mentor Daniel Domscheit-Berg (James McAvoy), who wrote "Inside WikiLeaks: My Time With Julian Assange At The World's Most Dangerous Website." Josh Singer is adapting that book as well as "WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War On Secrecy," by U.K. reporters David Leigh and Luke Harding. Assange starts out in the guise of noble crusader in the war on information but eventually falls prey to powermongering and paranoia.
Condon plans to start shooting in nine weeks in Berlin and Brussells with a European cast and crew, he said. McAvoy's upcoming schedule includes Bryan Singer's superhero sequel "X-Men: Days of Future Past." Steve Golin, Michael Sugar and Bard Dorros will produce the pic for Anonymous Content.