Having signalled the beginning of a difficult revitalization process through the ceremonial sacrifice of their longtime marketing chief to the Hollywood gods earlier this week (in fairness, you try and sell something called The Last Mimzy), embattled New Line executives Bob Shaye and Tobey Emmerich sat down with the LAT's Patrick Goldstein to discuss What Went Wrong during their recent, flop-riddled run—Hairspray notwithstanding—and to share their vision for the studio's future. In a refreshing change of course, Emmerich reveals that they're ready to recognize that a screenplay is only as good as the one-sheet that condenses its ideas into a single, multiplex-lobby-friendly image and the test marketing audience that will recognize its third act problems at a fraction of the cost of a roomful of clueless development execs. Reports Goldstein:
"We'd always been a very script-driven company," Emmerich says. "But now, with so much competitive pressure in the marketplace, we have to focus as much on marketing as on the script. If we'd had a vision of the one-sheet when we were hearing a pitch, not just after we've made the movie, maybe we wouldn't have suffered through so many of our mistakes."
Emmerich not only invited OTX market research guru Kevin Goetz to speak to the troops, he had him do a market test of some of the films they had in development. "He's the guy who's there when the rubber meets the road, so having him assess the marketability of our casting ideas was a lot better litmus test than a bunch of development execs sitting around talking about whether the third act worked or not."
But embracing this marketing-driven approach doesn't mean that Shaye and Emmerich will completely abandon the instincts that have brought them so much success in the past; going forward, their billion-dollar guts will collaborate with focus groups to produce an unstoppable, hybrid "Fuck yeah, that's just crazy enough to work!"/"We've run the numbers and they seem to bear out that this is just crazy enough to initially bomb, but then turn a tidy profit in the home video market!" approach to moviemaking:
When it comes to counterintuitive thinking, nothing beats making a sequel to "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle," a 2004 stoner comedy that was a box-office dud. "Everyone said, 'Are you out of your mind?' Why would you want to do a sequel for a movie that lost money!' " recounts Emmerich. However, the original film was a DVD smash, much like the first installments in the "Austin Powers" series that spawned hit sequels for the studio. Emmerich believes the "Kumar" sequel, due next spring, is more outrageous than the original, citing a plot twist in which its heroes escape from Guantanamo Bay and end up getting high with the president.
"At our test screening," he explains, "George Bush was the highest-rated character in the whole film."
Of course, once they start counting the receipts from this weekend's Rush Hour 3 debut, they may succumb to the temptation to scrap this ambitious overhaul and just have an assistant follow around Brett Ratner with a tape recorder, greenlighting every one of the semi-coherent ideas ("It'll be like my Rush flicks, but with a Mexican cop and Larry the Cable Guy. Also, they're in Iraq.") they're later able to transcribe, so let's not get too attached to the idea of a White Castle spin-off series starring a bong-toting President's attempt to eat at every Chick-Fil-A in America in just a week.