$100 mil no dream for ‘Sleepless’

No one got a Mercedes, there wasn’t a special message emblazoned on the Space Needle and life continued apace in the state of Washington. But on Saturday, TriStar’s “Sleepless in Seattle” reached a milestone by earning more than $ 100 million at the domestic box office.

“Of course we’re really pleased by its success,” said TriStar Pictures president Mike Medavoy. “Traditionally, a romantic comedy doesn’t have this type of commercial success. It’s also unusual to find a picture of this sort playing in the summer. We decided to buck the trend and it worked. This will be one of the company’s most profitable pictures.”

Produced by Gary Foster, Jeff Arch’s original screenplay about two people searching for an ideal mate went through the usual protracted development. David S. Ward did a credited rewrite prior to the arrival of writer/director Nora Ephron.

The latter element provided the project with that extra heat and a cast led by Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

‘Blessed experience’

“I liked the material and worked on making it less precious with my sister Delia,” said Ephron. “It was kind of a blessed experience. The studio was happy with the dailies and our first previews were great. In this business, you learn that the third act begins with the first set of preview cards.”

Ephron said strong early testing gave her the latitude to use the music of her choice. Her mix of contemporary and classic tunes proved to be a major plus with audiences. Last week, the soundtrack topped the charts and there is talk of a second album tentatively called “More Songs for Sleepless Nights.”

TriStar distribution president Bill Soady confirmed the picture’s strong initial response and the company’s strategy to sneak it as a way to build word-of-mouth.

Woman’s picture

“Films tend to be pegged in certain ways and ‘Sleepless’ was seen as a ‘woman’s picture,’ ” said Soady. “I think we were all a little surprised when we discovered men responded to the material just as strongly. Youdon’t tend to think of a movie as a people picture but this certainly would qualify.”

“I learned last week that the film was the 90-something biggest grossing film of all time (it ranks 88th after the weekend) and that’s pretty heady,” said Ephron. “I just have to remember that with dollar conversion, ‘Gone With the Wind’ has done $ 800 million.”

Medavoy said there were no plans on the books for a sequel, though the studio wouldn’t be adverse to one. Ephron said Foster calls her two to three times a week with a new idea for “Sleepless Too” but she suspects that any new chapter will be done with a new filmmaker.

“It’s difficult to say how the picture’s success has impacted on me,” said Ephron. “That’s partially because I know what I’m doing next (“The Night Before Christmas” for TriStar). But I think it will be instrumental in one crucial area. Next time out, I’m making it a contractual point that I get to choose the film’s caterer.”

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