'Hunger Games', 'Transformers' Filmmakers: 'You Can’t Manufacture a Franchise'

"Transformers: Dark of the Moon"


Industrial Light & Magic really upped the complexity on the latest "Transformers" film with 3D and the most complicated creature the company had ever created -- the snakelike Driller, made up of 70,051 parts. Says Scott Farrar, "The Driller wrapped around that tilted building demonstrates everything we put into these movies."

At Produced By Conference, the visionaries behind the successful films say focus on making the best first movie possible, and if it hits, run with it.

The one thing the producers and directors on the Produced By panel  “Franchise Building: Creating and Sustaining Studio Tentpoles” were able to agree on is that it is nearly impossible to actually manufacture a movie franchise.

“The belief  you can design a franchise just because you want one has been responsible for some of the worst movies we’ve seen in a long time,” said Nina Jacobson, the former head of production at Disney who produced the blockbuster hit The Hunger Games. “The most damning thing in Hollywood right now is the belief filmmakers decide if it’s a franchise. The audience decides.”

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Jacobson, seconded by panelist Lorenzo di Bonaventura, producer of Transformers and G.I. Joe films, among others, said all you can really do is make the best movie possible and hope that works for the audience. “We weren’t talking about anything but making that first movie as good as it can be,” said di Bonaventura.

When you do that, and then get to make a second movie in that series, that is when you can actually start trying to figure out how to make it into a franchise, said di Bonaventura, who at one time also headed production at Warner Bros. He said that was the case with such films as The Matrix, and even Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

Jacobson said most potential franchises start with successful books, as was the case with The Hunger Games, or other well-known properties like games or products. That requires the filmmakers to be aware there are people with a strong attachments to the material, and that they “need to respect the ardent fans,” said Jacobson.

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However, when you develop the script and cast, you still need to do what you think is best for your movie. “You can’t let the fans cast the movie,” said Jacobson.

Todd Phillips, the filmmaker behind the The Hangover movies, said the most important thing is to find the right tone for each movie in the franchise, so that it has a consistent voice that the audience can recognize and understand. “I’ve often said the director’s job is to be the conveyor of that tone,” said Phillips.

One thing Jacobson did not want for The Hunger Games was to make the movie in 3-D. She said that the creative team felt that despite the violence, there was a thoughtful quality to the books and that they were ultimately very ethical. “They are about young people and violence without exploiting young people,” she explained.

Jacobson said they did consider making it in 3-D but then felt it would make the violence more of the focus instead of having it be driven by the characters. “I think it would be distasteful,” said Jacobson. “We discussed it and discarded it early on.”