New York Times News Service
Copyright (c) 2014
LOS ANGELES — Two years after Lions Gate released the fifth and supposedly final installment of its “Twilight” movie series, the studio has devised an unusual franchise-rekindling effort — and it may hold clues about Facebook’s future in Hollywood.
Lions Gate and Stephenie Meyer, the creator of the vampires-and-werewolves “Twilight” saga, on Tuesday announced plans to select five aspiring female directors to make short films based on “Twilight” characters. The mini-movies, financed by Lions Gate and its production partners, will be shown exclusively on Facebook next year.
[The “Twilight” series of books and movies are set on the North Olympic Peninsula, mainly the West End community of Forks with key portions in Port Angeles.]
“We think Facebook is a great way for us to introduce the world of ‘Twilight’ to a whole new audience while re-energizing existing fans,” Michael Burns, Lions Gate’s vice chairman, said in an interview.
The effort reflects the manner in which Hollywood is maintaining its most valuable film properties between sequels and prequels and remakes. In the past, studios barely kept a pilot light lit, forcing marketing teams to constantly reactivate cold fan bases. Now the savviest studio marketers are using Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube and other online platforms to keep fans on a constant low boil.
“This is the just the beginning — a template, if you will,” Burns added. “You can probably guess what might be coming next.”
A similar short film series based on “The Hunger Games,” Lions Gate’s other megawatt movie property? A sixth “Twilight” movie? Burns declined to elaborate, though he did say, “We love Stephenie Meyer.”
While fans salivate over his tease, Hollywood will no doubt focus on the Facebook component. What it signals seems clear: The social media service can be more than a platform for movie trailers. Its future may well include the distribution of entire movies.
The entertainment industry is enticed by that proposition because Facebook attracts such a giant audience: 1.3 billion monthly users worldwide. Movie companies are increasingly exploring nontraditional distribution of all kinds. On Monday, the Weinstein Company announced a deal to simultaneously debut the coming sequel to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” on Netflix and in certain Imax theaters.
Lions Gate has a history of novel Facebook partnerships. The studio created a teaser for “Divergent” in December that became the service’s first video ad. More broadly, Facebook and entertainment industry executives have had informal discussions about partnerships tied to Oculus VR, a maker of virtual reality headsets that Facebook bought for $2 billion in July.
Facebook declined to make an executive available for an interview for this article. In a statement, Dan Rose, the Facebook vice president for partnerships, said Lions Gate’s “premium video program” was a “great opportunity” to engage the 150 million people who followed the official “Twilight” Facebook pages.
Even so, Chris Cox, the Facebook chief product officer, said in an interview in September that exclusive video or original content, like the new TV-length shows commissioned by Yahoo, were not a focus for the social network.
“It’s really how do we make the experience when you’re there amazing, more relevant and more joyful,” he said. “If you’re solving those sorts of problems, it’s not on your road map to go get exclusive content to get more people to come back to Facebook. One day, maybe, but not right now.”
The short film series, called “The Storytellers — New Creative Voices of ‘The Twilight Saga,’ ” has the backing of Women in Film, an organization devoted in part to ending a shortage of female directors. While not overtly championed by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, the initiative could be viewed in the context of her “Lean In” efforts to empower women in the workplace.
A group of female panelists, including the “Twilight” actress Kristen Stewart and Meyer, will select the winning shorts and mentor participants, Lions Gate said. Other panelists include actresses Kate Winslet, Octavia Spencer and Julie Bowen; Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the first “Twilight” movie; film producer Cathy Schulman; and Jennifer Lee, who co-directed “Frozen.”
Certain contest details, including the length of the shorts, are still being worked out and will be made available on Tongal.com, a crowdsourcing platform. A spokeswoman for Lions Gate declined to say how much the studio would spend, but added that it would be a “significant” amount, at least by short-film standards. The cast members of the “Twilight” movies are not expected to appear in the short films.
Meyer’s four “Twilight” books have sold more than 120 million copies worldwide. The five resulting films — the final book, “Breaking Dawn,” was told in two cinematic parts — took in $3.5 billion worldwide, after accounting for inflation.
The participation of Meyer in the new “Twilight” project carries extra weight. In 2012, when the last movie was released, Lions Gate was eager to work with her on more “Twilight” installments. But Meyer instead pursued other projects, including a science fiction romance called “The Host,” an adaptation of another one of her novels. “The Host” took in $26.6 million domestically.
In a statement, Meyer said nothing specific about returning to “Twilight” but instead focused on Hollywood’s gender gap. “The female voice is something that has become more and more important to me as I’ve worked in the film industry,” she said.