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With ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Casting in Place, Universal and Focus Can Start to Stoke Marketing Heat

Studios took time putting together the highly-anticipated adaptation

More than a year after acquiring rights to the racy bestselling novel that gave popularized to the term “mommy porn,” Universal and Focus have finally put the main elements in place to start shooting in October.

While some observers thought it was risky to wait so long to finalize the cast before the projected October start date, the filmmakers were more focused on getting the right chemistry for the romance.

Fifty Shades of Grey” author E.L. James announced the casting of Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele and Charlie Hunnam as Christian Grey Monday morning via Twitter, the final major pieces needed before the film could go into production next month.

While the book has a handful of other characters, namely Steele’s roommate Kate, the sexy romance is a virtual two-hander since the other characters contribute only minimally to the storyline.

Variety reported that Johnson was in the mix among a handful of actresses more than a week ago and that Hunnam was meeting for the part, but at the time decisions had still not been made on filling the roles.

While James and the studios are said to consider the project as a “serious love story,” it follows a typical romance novel plot: A young, virginal woman meets a dominating slightly older man; the two become obsessed with each other while he tries to get her to accept a lengthy list of sexual activities that turn him on.

The involvement of Focus and producers Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti would seem to put a veneer of respectability on the project, but it remains unclear how the filmmakers will portray the nearly non-stop light S&M scenes in order to keep the film from veering too close to the porn realm.

Major releases with NC-17 ratings remain few and far between; there are still issues with advertising and acceptance by some exhibitors. Focus and Universal will have to decide on whether to try a wide release in order to quickly capitalize on the book’s enthusiastic fanbase or start with a platform release that’s more typical for an explicit film. Either way, it’s likely to be the highest-profile explicit film in many years.

The filmmakers understandably wanted all the right elements in place, but with two and a half years between the time the book became a phenomenon and the film’s release, the challenge will be to rekindle the heat behind the ‘Fifty Shades’ name.

Universal and Focus won the rights at the end of March 2012 but didn’t name  De Luca and  Brunetti as producers till early July because Universal wanted to hear pitches from several top-level producers before making a decision. When Kelly Marcel was selected to write the screenplay in October 2012, the studio did not give her a drop-dead deadline specifically because producers wanted to make sure she and James would have time to work together on the best adaptation of the book.

Artist and newbie director Sam Taylor-Johnson wasn’t announced as helmer until June of this year because execs wanted to make sure a close-to-final script was ready before starting meetings with directors.

‘Fifty Shades’ is dated for release Aug. 1, 2014, which takes it out of the way of earlier summer tentpoles and gives it room to breathe in female-friendly August, when films like “Julie and Julia” and “The Help” have found success.

 

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