Why 'Earth to Echo' Moved From Studio to Studio
A version of this story first appeared in the July 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Earth to Echo is Disney's loss, but it may be Relativity Media's gain -- if the movie does well when it opens July 2.
The $13 million PG film about a tiny alien that looks like a robot and searches for his way home (hello, E.T.?) lost its own home when Disney put it in turnaround last summer.
Despite producing the picture, Disney made the unusual move not to release it after switching strategies and opting to avoid the ultra-low-budget movie game. Initially known as Untitled Wolf Adventure, the project was greenlighted by production president Sean Bailey during a gap between the reigns of studio chairmen Rich Ross and Alan Horn, and it was shot in a "found-footage" style -- as if the kids in the film were shooting their adventures.
A source with knowledge of the situation says, "After seeing a cut of the film, Horn had his eye on bigger movies and allowed the producers to shop it around." (Disney declined to comment.)
Producer Andrew Panay then brought Echo to Relativity president Tucker Tooley. The duo decided to pick up the project, and while Disney was required to deliver a completed film with full visual effects, Relativity chose to do significant work on it.
"Because it's sort of in a found-footage language, we needed to stretch it in the opposite direction," says Tooley. "We wanted to make sure it had a family-film stamp on it."
Relativity and Panay spent several months on editorial work and did two to three days of reshoots to make the movie less rough-hewn and more family-friendly. A new scene that was added in, featuring Echo breaking apart a truck as it hurtles toward some kids, was one of the highest-testing scenes in the final product, says Tooley. Additionally, significant work was done the film's visual effects and score.
FILM REVIEW 'Earth to Echo'
"Every studio has sort of mandates that change, and perhaps — I'm just speculating — there was a shift in what they wanted to do," says Tooley of Disney's decision to let the film go.
The new version, completed early this year, now will go up against Transformers: Age of Extinction during the Fourth of July weekend in a summer that's light on family films compared to 2013. "We saw this as a counterprogramming window of opportunity," says Tooley. "It's on a holiday that's very family-oriented, so we're hoping for some success."