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Hollywood's hits and misses explored in Cannes

The Da Vinci Code was bound to be a hit, but Hollywood could not harp of anything else than that.

india Updated: May 24, 2006 12:03 IST

The Da Vinci Code was bound to be a film hit, but virtually nothing else that Hollywood produces can be so sure of success, say the filmmakers behind a documentary that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.

The movie, Boffo! Tinseltown's Bombs and Blockbusters, presents such filmmakers and stars as George Clooney, Steven Spielberg, Jodie Foster, Morgan Freeman and Richard Dreyfuss, all reaching the consensus that no one really knows anything about what makes a hit and what makes a flop.

The directors, producers, actors and studio executives interviewed agree that groundbreaking movie successes share some common denominators, yet there is no formula to guarantee a hit. "You have to take risks, you have to believe in yourself, you have to have luck, you have to accept failure and move on," said Boffo director Bill Couturie. "You have to have a script, and then you put all that together, and sometimes the movie god smiles at you and sometimes he doesn't."

The documentary, which makes its cable TV debut June 29 on HBO in the United States, was inspired by the forthcoming book Boffo! How I Learned to Love the Blockbuster and Fear the Bomb by Peter Bart, editor in chief of the daily Hollywood trade paper Variety. The book comes out June 14.

Bart, an executive producer on Boffo, said the key similarity shared by most innovative hits is that no one in Hollywood believed they would work.

"Almost all of the major hits, the kinds of hits that really sort of moved the needle on pop culture, they were all absolutely bashed at every stage. Everyone hated the idea to begin with," Bart said.

In the documentary, Freeman discusses projects he's been involved with that surprised Hollywood by clicking with audiences: Clint Eastwood's brooding Western Unforgiven; Driving Miss Daisy, the story of a black chauffeur and a cranky Jewish widow; The Shawshank Redemption, a prison buddy saga that sank at the box office then found commercial success on home video; and March of the Penguins, the documentary smash Freeman narrated. "Penguins? Penguins? Penguins?" Freeman says. "Nobody knows. You never can know."

Boffo presents a litany of films that defied convention and became major hits, among them Jaws, Star Wars, Tootsie, Forrest Gump, Braveheart, Apollo 13, A League of Their Own and Cast Away.

More a celebration of Hollywood's happy endings than its failures, Boffo focuses mainly on the blockbusters and is relatively light on the bombs. The documentary does examine what went wrong with such duds as Howard the Duck, Clan of the Cave Bear and The Bonfire of the Vanities.

The latter was adapted from Tom Wolfe's best seller and starred box-office stalwart Tom Hanks, yet it became one of modern Hollywood's big flops. Sixteen years later, Hanks starred in another best-selling adaptation, The Da Vinci Code, which pulled in US$ 232 million (euro180.6 million) worldwide by the end of opening weekend.

"That was a gold-plated project from day one," Couturie said. "They spent whatever they needed to make the movie, and they got the best people they could find."

Bart noted how executives at Universal scoffed at George Lucas when he delivered his 1960s nostalgia romp "American Graffiti," whose unorthodox trappings included multiple story lines and a wall-to-wall rock 'n' roll soundtrack.

"Universal said this isn't even good enough to sell as a TV movie, and they said, 'Get lost, kid. You're in the wrong business,"' Bart said of American Graffiti, which became a $100 million (euro78 million) smash. "That's one of the reasons George always made his pictures independently, because he got the hell beat out of him the first time around."