'Paper Towns' Producers on Keeping Up With 'Twilight' Stars and Making John Green Cry
Temple Hill's Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey went from Hollywood roommates to kings of YA movies after producing the 'Twilight' series. Now, as they follow 'The Fault in Our Stars,' they explain how they discover unknown actors and how much power they give authors.
A version of this story first appeared in the July 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey were 27-year-old acquaintances climbing the Hollywood ladder when they moved into a house together on Temple Hill Drive in Beachwood Canyon. Perhaps because they met during their formative years, the roommates turned best friends have kept their production company young at heart, with a focus on low- to midbudget films aimed at teens, young adults and women (the occasional Nerf war in the hall helps).
Bowen, a former UTA partner, and Godfrey, a veteran producer, founded Temple Hill in 2006 and hit paydirt with the Twilight franchise, producing five films in three years that went on to earn a collective $3.34 billion worldwide. They found YA gold again in 2014 by adapting John Green's book The Fault in Our Stars into a $12 million Fox film that earned $307.2 million. Bowen and Godfrey, both 47, moved quickly to adapt Green's Paper Towns (out July 24) and next will take on the author's debut novel, Looking for Alaska, at Paramount. In the process, they have made stars of such unproven talents as Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, Shailene Woodley and, they now hope, Cara Delevingne and Nat Wolff of Towns.
With books-to-film as its backbone, the 10-employee Temple Hill has juggled multiple projects at once, producing Nicholas Sparks adaptations (Dear John and The Longest Ride) and the Maze Runner franchise (the second installment, The Scorch Trials, is set to open Sept. 18) while also working in TV on the upcoming Fox series Rosewood. The duo also signed to produce a Power Rangers reboot and James Frey's Endgame. And they're expanding into publishing, teaming with HarperCollins to develop emerging authors. Bowen, a married father of 3-year-old twins and a newborn, and Godfrey, a married dad of three teen boys, sat down with THR to discuss Green's allure, how they find stars and female voices in Hollywood.
MTV Movie Awards for 'Twilight' and 'Fault.'
The Fault in Our Stars surprised a lot of people. Did you know what you had when you optioned the book?
GODFREY Honestly? Yes. We really did, from the beginning. I remember when the book was just coming out, I emailed [Fox 2000 president] Elizabeth Gabler and said, "This movie's going to make $100 million." Even though it's about two kids with cancer, it felt so commercial. Similar to the Twilight movies, it's about the love story and that bubble they're in together while there's bad shit happening to them — you can just feel it.
BOWEN Fox wanted to manage our expectations. They would always get shocked when we told them what we expected to make worldwide.
Does Paper Towns have to do as well as Fault to be considered a success?
GODFREY No. It straddles many genres: It's a mystery; it's a comedy; it's a love story. And it's one of his earlier books. Fault became the book everybody and their mother had to read, and Paper Towns is one that's beloved, but it's a bit of a smaller book.
Green has said he had bad experiences with his books being optioned before you guys came along. How did you get him to let you adapt Fault?
GODFREY He was initially very surprised when we aggressively pursued him and we showed up at this event when the book came out. I think he was nervous about it, frankly. We articulated to him that we love the book, and we were not going to turn it into something it's not. And we told him our experience with Twilight, of being very authentic to the books. The funny thing was that I am a hard-core Liverpool [soccer] fan and he is a hard-core Liverpool fan, and he said, "The fact that you're a Liverpool fan means you can't be bad."
In 'Paper Towns,' a character collects black Santa dolls.
How much power do you give a book author?
GODFREY We don't think of it as power; we think of it as giving them a voice in the room — and as much of a voice, frankly, as they want to have.
What about a situation as with EL James and Fifty Shades of Grey, where it can get out of control?
GODFREY It's hard to speak to that, not being in the situation. The truth of the matter is that we produce movies for a living, and we want to be able to do that to the best of our ability. If we ever came into a situation where we thought it's going to be uncomfortable and not be a fun experience, we probably would pull it before we ever got to that point.
BOWEN And it's not fair to judge all authors by one person, either. There's often somebody on the set that makes it difficult — it doesn't necessarily have to be the author.
How much does Green participate in the process?
GODFREY He reads the scripts and generally gives his thoughts. We go through the casting process and ultimately tend to show him the person we like the most, or maybe we'll show him that person with a couple of other people we also like. He is incredibly trusting of what we want to do, and he's on set really to appreciate the process of watching his book come to life and be able to step in every now and then and say, "I feel like the one thing we can't miss in this scene is this." In the meantime, he's a cheerleader — he's incredibly optimistic and fun. And he breaks down in tears when there's a sad scene taking place.
Bowen keeps a bobblehead of Godfrey in his office, and Godfrey has one of Bowen in his home.
Often the stars of your films aren't well known. How do you find them?
GODFREY We audition everybody, and then you go with your gut of who blows you away. And good agents help: A year before we made Fault, Ansel [Elgort's] agent sent me this video of Ansel doing tap for his dad for his birthday. It was a year before we were even beginning casting. That guy had such innate charisma — it was always in the back of my head.
BOWEN We tend to work with so many young people, so if you find someone who happens to have some momentum, you want to feel like by the time the movie comes out, they're going to be someone people will want to go see.
GODFREY The funny thing about Shailene was, from the very beginning she said: "I want to do this; I have to do this. Please, please, please." But [director] Josh [Boone] wanted to find someone who was 17 or 18, and she was 21. We auditioned every actress — the very last person who auditioned was Shailene. She walked into the room and did her scenes, and we were all in tears. So it happens in different ways.
Do you keep in touch with the Twilight stars?
GODFREY We keep in touch with all of them in the way you keep in touch with actors who have busy lives and are half your age. Every half-year we catch up and try to find something else to work on together. They've each been really smart about the way they've followed up their Twilight careers in that they've not jumped into big studio fare in general. They've chosen directors and movies based on the movie, not the size of the movie. Kristen being the first American actress to win a Cesar [France's Oscar, for Clouds of Sils Maria] was pretty f—ing cool. And Rob's just worked with a string of people you'd want to be on your filmography when you're done.
Nerf guns were a gift from 'Twilight' author Stephenie Meyer.
What types of new challenges do young actors face in building their careers?
BOWEN Every young actor who has success in one genre wants to immediately do something completely different. I think trusting their instincts is the hardest thing to do. So often they do the thing they think they're supposed to do, as opposed to the thing they really want to do.
Why did you sign on to produce the Power Rangers reboot?
BOWEN When I was very young I lived in Japan for three years. It was at a time when there were probably four stations. All you could watch were Japanese-language shows, so I started to fall in love with Japanese superheroes. When I moved out to Los Angeles in the early '90s, I'd nostalgically watch the Power Rangers, and it would put a smile on my face. Now I watch it with my 3-year-olds. Some of these stories were wonderful, and it’s exciting trying to update it for a modern audience.
Sparks' most recent film, The Longest Ride, underperformed, earning only $60 million. Why?
BOWEN We love to work with people we consider part of our family, and Nicholas is certainly part of that. You can't really fault him for having a couple that aren't so successful — it's just the nature of the beast.
Is there more of a priority these days on telling female stories and hiring female filmmakers?
GODFREY For filmmakers, I think so. It’s important to push the agenda of hiring women directors. Honestly, we look at our slate of movies that we’ve made over the six or seven years and they’ve all been female-driven. I think we felt blessedly ahead of the curve.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were roommates in Hollywood?
BOWEN I wish I was more aware of how great we had it. I look back at that time, when you have all this potential and everything is ahead of you. I would have appreciated it even more. I think so often at that time that as much as you’re having fun, you’re often thinking about getting your career up and running and the anxiety of where you’re going to be often taints the journey to get there.
When Godfrey was making 2004’s Flight of the Phoenix, director John Moore wanted to fire the set decorator after seeing these intricate forks on set. “His point was that these guys just crash landed, they’re just trying to survive. You think oil workers are going to craft a beautiful fork?” says Godfrey. A month later, Moore, sent him the framed fork as a memento.