Mon. Aug 8th, 2022

It seems like a lot to ask, but the fate of the entire holiday movie season that begins this weekend may hinge on whether one film can live up to its pre-release hype: “Twilight.”It’s a movie that many may not have heard of, from a studio that is probably more of an unknown quantity: Summit Entertainment. It has big shoes to fill as it’s standing in for an installment of the powerhouse “Harry Potter” franchise, which was postponed until next summer. And it’s a microcosm of what’s ahead for the industry this holiday season as few proven franchises are hitting screens this year.

Anyone with a teenager who has been dragged to a midnight release of any of the books in the “Twilight” series by author Stephenie Meyer already knows the film is bound for a big opening weekend when it debuts Nov. 21.

Whether it can keep the industry on its near-record pace in domestic receipts could be another story, depending on how long the film’s appeal lasts. Now that “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” won’t hit theaters until July, there are mostly unknown quantities this holiday season.

“It looks like a quiet holiday season,” said Brandon Gray, president of BoxOfficeMojo.com. “I wish it were a bit more exciting but hopefully there’ll be some surprise successes.”

While there are two better-known films preceding “Twilight” _ DreamWorks Animation’s “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” and the latest James Bond film from Sony Corp., “Quantum of Solace” there are mostly unknown quantities until year’s end.

That means if “Twilight” can draw audiences into theaters well into December, it could bode well for some of the other movies expected to make their way on to the big screen between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

So far, the signs are good. Close to 100 show times on the day of “Twilight’s” debut are sold out, according to online ticket seller Fandango Inc. It already comprises 63 percent of the broker’s sales, already outdistancing both “Madagascar” and “Quantum.”

“I think ‘Twilight’ is going to be a big, big hit,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media By Numbers.

If so, it could not only lift the fortunes of holiday box office in a foundering economy, it might elevate Summit into a formidable player among Hollywood studios.

Summit has been in the business for more than a decade, usually handling foreign sales of such films as “The Blair Witch Project,” “American Pie” and 2006 Academy Award nominee, “Babel.” It also helped produce “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” “Insomnia” and “Memento.”

It also distributed films internationally, but earlier this year it dipped into the waters of the U.S. market by setting up a domestic distribution arm.

Domestic distribution is usually the domain of big studios like Sony, Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. unit, General Electric’s Universal Studios, Walt Disney Co. and Fox, a unit of News Corp. (News Corp. is the parent of MarketWatch, publisher of this report.)

But Summit set up its own network and in February released “Penelope,” a romantic comedy/fantasy. After that, it put out three others: “Never Back Down,” the animated feature “Fly Me to the Moon” and “Sex Drive.” None of the four have set the box office on fire; “Never Back Down” raked in the most money with $30.3 million in worldwide receipts.

Still, Summit Co-Chair and Chief Executive Rob Friedman says his aim is to make and distribute 12 films annually, an active year for most major studios.

“There’s room for all of us,” Friedman said.

Friedman is an industry veteran who started out in the Warner Bros. mailroom in 1970 and worked his way up to be its publicity chief. He then migrated over to Viacom Inc.’s Paramount Pictures unit in 1997 where he became studio chief Sherry Lansing’s second-in-command. Friedman moved over to run Summit with its longtime president Patrick Wachsberger last year.

“Twilight” is, by far, Summit’s biggest release and could end up being the franchise upon which it builds its future. Meyer has written three other books for Little, Brown Book Group in the series _ “New Moon,” “Eclipse” and “Breaking Dawn.”

“Breaking Dawn” was released in August in the same vein as the “Potter” books, with midnight unveilings at Borders, Barnes and Noble and other outlets. It sold 1.3 million copies its first day. Summit has secured deals for “New Moon” and “Eclipse,” and is closing in on a deal for “Breaking Dawn.”

“Twilight” first was published in 2005 and was a property under development by Paramount’s MTV unit while Friedman was there. It had yet to gain traction and was buried amid the other film projects the studio was juggling, Friedman recalls.

“It never hit my radar,” he said.

Lansing left Paramount during a studio shakeup in 2004 and Friedman departed the year after. Once he got to Summit, though, “Twilight” started to catch on with readers.

“At the time that we acquired the rights, the book had just come on the scene,” Friedman said. “We saw the opportunity in it for a film.”

Friedman describes the series as Romeo and Juliet in a vampire world. “Twilight’s” potential became apparent as he started to read the screenplay adaptation of the book, and he eventually came to realize it could be a franchise series for the studio.

Summit then tried to build up more interest in “Twilight’s” fan base and got Meyer more involved in the process. She’s created her own Web site.

“The more we worked with the fan base, the more enthusiastic they became and the more it grew,” Friedman said.

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