How Lions Gate won "Hunger Games"

Thu Mar 22, 2012 5:01pm EDT
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By Ronald Grover and Peter Lauria

(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.   Continued...

Cast member Alexander Ludwig poses at the premiere of "The Hunger Games" at Nokia theatre in Los Angeles, California March 12, 2012. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni