The producers of “Cats” have seen the memes and read the mean tweets that greeted the first trailer for the big screen adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage smash.
When the initial teaser was launched this past summer, social media commentators feasted on the way that an A-list cast that includes Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, James Corden and Judi Dench had been feline-ized with whiskers and swishing tails, calling the transformation creepy. The $100 million film is being released by Universal and produced by Working Title, the studio’s long-term partner. Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan, the two heads of London-based Working Title, are taking a “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” stance, noting that the online furor raised the movie’s profile.
“What does one say?” says Fellner. “The reality is that 100 million people or more saw the trailer, and, yes, there were some people that didn’t like it, and as is the world we live in, those who didn’t like it were the most vociferous.”
Bevan has his own theory: “They were probably people who didn’t know ‘Cats,’ and the fact is they were either anticipating something animated or something that was on four legs. Among people who know ‘Cats,’ the reaction was pretty solid.”
Moreover, the cats themselves have changed in appearance. The versions that were shown in the initial trailer were not the finished renditions; they were the result of a mad scramble to get visual effects shots completed in time for the teaser, says Fellner. “You’re seeing subtle changes,” he says. “The characters have progressed and are progressing every day.”
“Cats” reunites Fellner and Bevan with Tom Hooper, the director of the Oscar-winning smash “Les Miserables,” which Working Title also produced. Fellner is taking the lead on “Cats” — the Working Title duo are listed as producers on all of their films, but divide their workload so that one man oversees much of the work on an individual production.
“Eric’s been instrumental to ‘Cats’ from the beginning,” says Hooper. “From the moment I found out that Universal owned the rights to ‘Cats’ through Steven Spielberg, Eric was the obvious producer to go on the journey with. He’s been the most amazing supporter of the movie throughout.”
“Cats” was first purchased for Spielberg in the 1980s, but languished in development hell. Bringing the story of a group of cats trying to determine who will be resurrected and reborn to a new life presented certain challenges. The Working Title team spent three years developing effects, dubbed “digital fur technology,” that enable its stars to be covered in photo-realistic fur.
“When we first started talking about ‘Cats,’ they were looking at putting prosthetics on the actors,” says Donna Langley, chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group. “There were all sorts of technical problems with dancers overheating and not being able to keep the fur on. It didn’t look good, so they went away and solved things.”
Working Title acknowledges that the film has been among the most challenging in its history.
“It’s a tough movie to make because musicals are difficult to make,” says Fellner. “We took a lot of what we learned from ‘Les Mis’ and Tom is brilliant at doing things like this and, you know, fingers crossed the film will be good and the audience will like it.”
“The film is really good,” interjects Bevan. “And fingers crossed the audience will like it.”