Women driving teen vampire adaptation's buzz

By any measure, “Twilight” seems an unlikely candidate for a blockbuster. Produced by Summit Entertainment for $37 million with no name stars, the film is a B-movie of indefinable genre, part horror, part fantasy and part chick flick.

While young men typically drive horror films, women are driving the “Twilight” train. But they’re notoriously difficult to track and measure.

Even so, most people in the biz believe that when “Twilight” opens on Nov. 21 its numbers will be huge. While Summit has ample reason to be optimistic given passionate anticipation for its adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s bestseller Fandango.com reports that the pic has sold out nearly 100 showtimes for opening day across the country — it is worried about setting expectations too high.

A $30 million opening (opposite the Disney animated comedy “Bolt”) is a modest estimate, but “Twilight” could exceed $50 million.

Under pressure from exhibs, Summit plans a wide opening on more than 5,000 screens. But that suggests there might be some anxiety about whether the movie will play beyond the target core. The film’s Nov. 8-10 press junket — attended by a largely skeptical male press contingent — should offer an early glimpse at the pic’s broader prospects, but the pic has plenty of pluses going for it:

  • It’s based on a huge bestseller. “Twilight” is the first tome in the second-most successful book series since “Harry Potter.” The four books in the series have sold 17 million copies in 37 countries, mostly to femmes — not just teens but older women as well. The series has built a passionate following all over the world, due to Meyer’s own grassroots marketing efforts, as well as some 350 fan sites. The official “Twilight” website has had more than 8 million visits.

    In “Twilight,” high school everygirl Bella moves to the Pacific Northwest to live with her small-town sheriff father when her mother remarries. There, she meets and falls in love with the charismatic vampire Edward, who belongs to a special coven that eschews human blood. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t tempted, and part of “Twilight’s” appeal is the romantic appeal of a lover who is both protective and withholding: Will they kiss, have sex, or will he suck her blood? In April 2006, ex-Paramount vice chairman Rob Friedman and his Summit production chief Eric Feig scooped up the property when it was put into turnaround by MTV Films before the book hit it big. As Summit watched “Twilight” and its sequels move up the charts, they saw the wisdom of sticking close to Meyer’s text and brought “Dexter” writer Melissa Rosenberg and director Catherine Hardwicke (“Thirteen,” “Lords of Dogtown”) aboard.

    Because it’s not a takeoff on any existing movie genre, “Twilight” feels fresh, even if its hybrid nature makes marketers nervous. Summit is spending more than $30 million on prints and ads and booking theaters without being able to check against an existing playbook. “Twilight” charts new ground, which forced Summit to fly by the seat of its pants. “It’s really its own thing,” says one Summit marketing exec.

  • Robert Pattinson is stirring fan fever. After Meyer anointed Brit actor Pattinson (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”) as Edward on her site during production, the fans swiftly accepted him. When he hit Hall H at Comic-Con last July some 5,000 women, many of whom had camped overnight in line, screamed as if they were at Beatles concert.

    Screaming fans punctuated the screening of eight minutes of footage of Edward and Bella at the Rome Film Fest (where 3,000 tickets sold out in 20 minutes) and again at Spain’s Sitges Film Fest.

    Pattinson is No. 5 on IMDb Pro’s StarMeter, higher than both DiCaprio and Brad Pitt.

  • Women are starving for romance. Hollywood doesn’t make movies like “Love Story” or “Reds” anymore, partly because it’s hard to pull off sincerity in our cynical age. Auds these days would rather laugh at the weepy goofball in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” than take love seriously.

    The studios are scared of romantic dramas because they are execution-dependent and must rely on positive reviews. Femme filmgoers have recently propelled “Sex in the City” and “Mamma Mia!” to big opening weekends, it takes established brands to reach those numbers.

  • It’s about vampires. Arguably, vampires have never been more popular than they are now, from the “Underworld” film trilogy to HBO’s “True Blood.”

    Vampires add commerciality to “Twilight,” partly because they turn “romance” into the more accessible “romantic fantasy.”

    Significantly, vampires also appeal to men.

    Summit is hoping the film’s extended action sequences — a highflying vampire baseball game and rogue vampires are highlighted in the second “Twilight” trailer — will lure men, too.

  • Summit isn’t cutting any corners. The year-old distrib needs a hit, and is pulling out the stops to generate one.

    Friedman admits Summit has “grabbed a tiger by the tail,” and its execs very much want to maximize this chance, because it will keep them in business amid tough economic times.

    To maximize its upside, Summit sent Hardwicke back for reshoots on the film, including Edward and Bella’s first kiss and the book’s big reveal of Edward’s pale skin sparkling in the sunlight.

    The distrib has been pushing this movie hard since April. The pic’s first teaser trailer hit big on MySpace and is now closing in on 4 million views.

    While Oprah didn’t jump at doing a “Twilight”-dedicated show, Ellen DeGeneres begged for it — which was fine with Summit, as she has a younger audience. Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, who plays Bella, are booked on the talkshow circuit, including the “Today” show. In November and December, more than 50 magazine features are planned, including Vanity Fair.

    To foster the pic’s youth marketing, Summit enlisted MTV.com early on, supplying ad materials, art, trailers and clips. The site crashed when it posted first-look cast photos. Advance clips from the soundtrack and the Paramore single “Decode” are generating millions of streams on Meyer’s website and MySpace.

    Summit is also aggressively aiming to expand the pic’s appeal beyond the 13-30 femme base to older women and young men. To do that, it’s taking the cast around to 15 Hot Topic mall events around the country.

    “Twilight” will open day-and-date in 10 markets around the world, and broaden out in December and January.

    Needless to say, Summit has nailed down rights to the three “Twilight” sequels and has the actors committed.

    “We’re poised,” says Friedman. “We’ll make our decision on Nov. 22.”

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