Conan The Barbarian – Flops, Gets Sued, Screenwriter Feels Sad24.08.11 # News # 20 Comments
Things are going from bad to worse for Conan the Barbarian, the Nu Image/Millennium revival of the famed Robert E. Howard character. A dismal opening weekend has been followed by news of a looming lawsuit against the production, and now screenwriter Sean Hood has laid bare his feelings about the movie flopping.
Let’s start with that lawsuit, which seems perhaps somewhat misguided in its aims. The new movie version of Conan the Barbarian, starring Jason Momoa as the eponymous sword-swinger, is subject of legal proceedings on behalf of Stan Lee Entertainment, a firm founded but no longer run by the geriatric Marvel Comics legend of that name. SLE is alleging that it still owns the screen rights to the Conan character on account of the current film having been set up via what it calls an illegal deal, struck around the time of the company’s bankruptcy in 2001.
Okay, but it is the aim of the lawsuit which might prompt eyebrows to shoot skyward in the manner of a novice fighter jet pilot confusing the ignition switch with the button which activates his ejector seat. For Stan Lee Entertainment is after 100% of the profits of Conan the Barbarian, an amount which currently stands at box office gross (about $15m) minus production costs (a reputed $90m), also minus prints and advertising (probably not much shy of the previous eye-watering figure). Could the firm not just have chalked this one up as a bullet dodged, and refrained from calling in the lawyers?
One individual very much on the receiving end of that bullet of failure was Sean Hood, one of the credited scriptwriters on Conan, and he has just posted a blog entry about his own reaction to the film’s financial failure. You can read what he wrote in full here, but these are some edited highlights:
When you work “above the line” on a movie (writer, director, actor, producer, etc.) watching it flop at the box office is devastating. I had such an experience during the opening weekend of Conan the Barbarian 3D.
A few months before release, “tracking numbers” play the role in movies that polls play in politics. It’s easy to get caught up in this excitement, like a college volunteer handing out fliers for Howard Dean. (Months before Conan was released many close to the production believed it would open like last year’s The Expendables.) As the release date approaches and the the tracking numbers start to fall, you start adjusting expectations, but always with a kind of desperate optimism.
You begin selectively ignoring bad news and highlighting the good. You make the best of it. You believe.
The Friday night of the release is like the Tuesday night of an election. “Exit polls” are taken of people leaving the theater, and estimated box office numbers start leaking out in the afternoon, like early ballot returns. You are glued to your computer, clicking wildly over websites, chatting nonstop with peers, and calling anyone and everyone to find out what they’ve heard. Have any numbers come back yet? That’s when your stomach starts to drop.
By about 9 PM it’s clear when your “candidate” has lost by a startlingly wide margin, more than you or even the most pessimistic political observers could have predicted. With a movie its much the same: trade magazines like Variety and Hollywood Reporter call the weekend winners and losers based on projections. That’s when the reality of the loss sinks in, and you don’t sleep the rest of the night.
For the next couple of days, you walk in a daze, and your friends and family offer kind words, but mostly avoid the subject. Since you had planned (ardently believed, despite it all) that success would propel you to new appointments and opportunities, you find yourself at a loss about what to do next. It can all seem very grim.
You make light of it, of course. You joke and shrug. But the blow to your ego and reputation can’t be brushed off. Reviewers, even when they were positive, mocked Conan The Barbarian for its lack of story, lack of characterization, and lack of wit. This doesn’t speak well of the screenwriting – and any filmmaker who tells you s/he “doesn’t read reviews” just doesn’t want to admit how much they sting.
Unfortunately, the work I do as a script doctor is hard to defend if the movie flops. I know that those who have read my Conan shooting script agree that much of the work I did on story and character never made it to screen. I myself know that given the difficulties of rewriting a script in the middle of production, I made vast improvements on the draft that came before me. But it’s still much like doing great work on a losing campaign. All anyone in the general public knows, all anyone in the industry remembers, is the flop. A loss is a loss.