As moviegoers line up outside theaters in record numbers to catch opening weekend screenings of The Hunger Games, Hollywood is already looking to find the next major young adult novel to turn into a film sensation. It may just be Alcon Entertainment’s adaptation of the New York Times Best Selling Beautiful Creatures novels.
Already a trilogy with more books on the way, the Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl-authored series is a mix of supernatural gothic and teenage love story, which, at first sight, ticks all the boxes of a Harry Potter and Twilight-style hit. It caught the attention of Richard LaGravenese, the Oscar-nominated writer/director, who brought it to Warner Bros. and then, through a close relationship with Alcon CEO Broderick Johnson (who produced his PS I Love You), to that indie studio aligned with WB. It was a chance for the pair to reunite – and find their own mega franchise.
“All of the people who are financing movies today, whether they be studios or independently financed companies, are looking for books and things that could potentially have underlying brand equity,” Johnson told The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday. “So this certainly is an area, with the success of Twilight and The Hunger Games, people are looking at, so that there was a trilogy of books and there was a plan to continue was certainly an added incentive, and we were coming off with our success of The Blindside, so we had the resources, it’s a pretty big movie.”
Johnson wasn’t ready to pinpoint a full budget for the film, but put it north of $60 million, which would be the studio’s costliest film since The Book of Eli. The book, which pairs a normal high school guy (Jack O’Connell) with a girl (Alice Englert) from a New Orleans family of sorcerers and witches known as Casters, has a supporting adult cast that mirrors the established stars that made The Hunger Games appealing to an older audience. The film boasts two Oscar winners, in Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson, an Oscar nominee in Viola Davis, an Emmy winner in Margo Martindale and rising Shameless star Emmy Rossum.
“I think the most critical thing you do is pick your leads and they're very important but I think these movies that have worked in this area have also broken out beyond young viewers,” Johnson explained. “The Twilight movies are about a teenage girl, and you don’t open at $150 with just teenage girls. Adult women, and in the case of Hunger Games adult women and men, are going to these movies, so I think it’s important to not just pay attention to teenage characters, but having compelling adults.”
Of course, what sets the best YA franchise films apart from the rest of Hollywood is the built-in fan base already crazy for the books, which the studios count on to build buzz and spread the gospel about the series.
The Caster Chronicles, as the series is collectively called, is ultimately about the teen girl, named Lena Duchaness, who faces a major life decision at 16-years-old: become a light and good or dark and evil witch. The clear appeal to teens has created a major following and a social media-active crew that calls themselves Caster Girls, and seeing how Warners gave exclusive sneaks and access to the biggest Harry Potter fans and Summit romanced Twilight fans, Alcon knows the import of that group.
“Like they've done, we're being very respectful of the fans and we are trying to invite them into the process,” Johnson promised. “Indeed, some of our initial casting choices were released to the fan sites before we went live to the general publicity world and we're certainly planning special access things or sets or special treats to show to the fans as we start making the movie.”
And just as past YA-based hits did, Alcon will work to expand the novel’s fan base ahead of the film’s marketing buildup. That means, as much as they’d like to copy the approach of those films, they need to differentiate, too.
“First and foremost, we believe that the level of the relationships and the quality of what we're trying to do with Richard, given how prolific a writer he is, I think that will distinguish it in and of itself,” Johnson offered. “The other thing is that it has a very different look and feel than the initial Twilight movie. To some extent it has more of a southern gothic Anne Rice feel to it than the Twilight northwest feel to it. We brought a very high end crew and design team onto the movie in order to try to elevate it.”