Nancy Kirkpatrick and the 'Twilight'-Fueled Transformation of Summit

10:00 AM PST 12/05/2012 by Pamela McClintock
Austin Hargrave

The company's president of worldwide marking looks ahead to franchise hopeful "Ender's Game" in the midst of marketing awards contender "The Impossible."

This story first appeared in the Dec. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

When a receptionist at Summit Entertainment buzzed Nancy Kirkpatrick in summer 2011 to say there were three Twi-hards outside who wanted a tour of the studio, she chuckled. Summit's cozy office building in Santa Monica hardly resembles a storied Hollywood lot in size and scope.

But Kirkpatrick, the company's president of worldwide marketing, had something in her office that trumped any movie or television set: the Carolina Herrera wedding dress worn by Bella Swan, played by Kristen Stewart, in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 1. She invited the trio in, and together they marveled over the gown, made of crepe satin and French Chantilly lace with 152 tiny buttons down the back. Kirkpatrick also let them try on the Manolo Blahnik wedding shoes.

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"When do you ever get to do something like that at a studio? It was so much fun," says Kirkpatrick. "And these aren't 17-year-old girls, these are women. They'd driven all the way from Nebraska."

From the inception of the Twilight franchise, Kirkpatrick's mantra in selling the property was to speak to fans of Stephenie Meyer's blockbuster book series as if they were friends. The strategy paid off in an enormous victory for Kirkpatrick and Summit: The five Twilight films have grossed north of $3.1 billion at the global box office. That includes more than $600 million earned to date by the final installment, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 2.

Thanks to the spoils of Twilight, Summit hardly resembles the company Kirkpatrick arrived at in 2007 from Paramount, where she was executive vp worldwide publicity.

A cash-flush Summit merged in January with Lionsgate, creating a formidable new force with more than $1 billion in domestic box-office revenue this year. Tim Palen continues to run marketing for Lionsgate, while Kirkpatrick -- whose staff has grown from nine in the early days to 19 -- has dominion over Summit titles. (Kirkpatrick's success with Twilight no doubt influenced the marketing campaign for The Hunger Games, however.)

When Rob Friedman resigned as Paramount president of marketing and teamed with Patrick Wachsberger to expand Summit's reach, most who knew Kirkpatrick rightly assumed she would leave Paramount and join up again with Friedman. She has worked with him for most of her career, beginning at Warner Bros. during the mid-1980s and then at Paramount.

"I hired her as a publicity assistant. I remember that she was feisty, smart and had great social skills," says Friedman, co-chairman of the Lionsgate Motion Picture Group.

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There was no marketing playbook to guide Kirkpatrick when she began devising the campaign for Twilight, the first female-fueled franchise in history. She had worked on three Batman movies at Warners, but fanboys were a different animal. She had, however, worked on Mean Girls at Paramount. The Tina Fey-Lindsay Lohan dramedy was a surprise hit, grossing more than $124 million worldwide in 2004.

"We really felt like we were doing something that hadn't been done before -- building a franchise at an independent studio built on the backs of females," says Kirkpatrick.

"Working with a female fan base is great. With Batman, there was always drama with the fans."

Kirkpatrick, 57, says that because females are so immersed in pop culture, she and her team relied heavily on social media in building the Twilight brand and making the fans feel vested.

Adds Friedman: "Nancy is very intuitive and has always been a young thinker. Her mantra has always been, 'The fans are where you have to start; they will drive the process.' "

Kirkpatrick says her favorite Twilight moment came on the franchise's first Comic-Con panel in summer 2008.

"I've still never experienced anything like it. The decibel level was incredible. I remember Kristen came off the stage shaking because it was so overwhelming. She was a baby then," says Kirkpatrick.

This year, Summit had to weather the storm when Stewart, who has had an offscreen romantic relationship with fellow Twilight star Robert Pattinson, was caught by paparazzi being amorous with her Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders.

Kirkpatrick says the young Twilight stars "have personal relationships and personal lives. There are ups and downs in everyone's lives. Unfortunately, they have to have those ups and downs on the covers of magazines. But you survive and move forward."

"I always kept a mother's eye on her and am so proud of the way she handled everything since Twilight began," she adds.

Post-Twilight, Kirkpatrick is turning her attention to franchise hopeful Ender's Game, also based on a young-adult novel. The first movie opens in theaters Nov. 1, 2013.

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More immediately, she's in the midst of marketing awards contender The Impossible, the tsunami drama starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor. The film opens in select theaters Dec. 21.

The movie business is a roller coaster, and Summit's box-office disappointments have included Alex Cross ($25.4 million) as well as The Three Musketeers ($20.4 million) and The Beaver ($970,816). Successes include this year's microbudgeted horror pic Sinister ($47.7 million).

Growing up in Virginia Beach, Va. -- where her father, Andy Roberts, was a weatherman for the CBS affiliate -- Kirkpatrick attended Old Dominion University in nearby Norfolk, majoring in English. After she married her college sweetheart, Shone Kirkpatrick, the newlyweds moved to Los Angeles.

She says she wanted to work for the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984, but no job came through, so she started sending résumés to studio publicity departments and got the job at Warners. She rose through the ranks and became a publicity vp. The first film she was in charge of was Oliver Stone's controversial JFK.

"I was in Dallas with Oliver for a screening and a cocktail party. It was very late at night, and after the party, Oliver wanted to go to Dealey Plaza. I remember standing on the famous grassy knoll with him. It was incredible," recalls Kirkpatrick.

Along the way, Kirkpatrick and her husband -- an English professor who teaches at College of the Canyons in Valencia, Calif.-- had three children, who seem to be following in their mother's footsteps. Son Dylan, 26, works at music management firm Front Line, while daughter Kelsey, 24, is an MTV Networks staffer in New York in integrated marketing and sponsorship. Youngest daughter Hadley, 22, is a publicist at 42West in New York.

"Each of my kids is so radically different. Dylan was the guy who was always into music, while Kelsey was the academic. Hadley was a national championship cheerleader," says Kirkpatrick. "I always told them, 'If you can be good at one thing, you can be good at anything.' "

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