Sundance: Michael De Luca Talks Challenges of 'Fifty Shades' Adaptation, New Columbia Pictures Job

Michael De Luca
Austin Hargrave

"I didn't feel pressure because we had a possible replacement in place before the thing actually went down," says De Luca, referring to Charlie Hunnam's exit from Fifty Shades of Grey. "It's just called being prepared. But I am on Twitter constantly. I am a masochist. I'm into the fandom, so I was aware of what was coming the first time around, when Charlie Hunnam wasn't what most readers pictured."

The veteran producer was joined by PGA head Vance Van Petten for a wide-ranging discussion, including why the guild is not a studio-driven group.

PARK CITY -- With Michael De Luca and PGA head Vance Van Petten leading the discussion, the second annual PGA breakfast for producers attending Sundance covered a wide variety of topics ranging from Fifty Shades of Grey to De Luca's new job at Columbia Pictures.

De Luca, who is producing Fifty Shades before segueing to his post as president of Columbia Pictures, gave the packed room of producers advice on navigating tricky projects. In fact, Fifty Shades was just one of those tricky projects, De Luca said. Van Petten joked that he knows a lot of producers "who said they wouldn't touch that material with a 50-foot whip." 

De Luca, who's worked on best-picture Oscar nominees Captain Phillips, Moneyball and The Social Network, agreed that like the best-seller Moneyball, Fifty Shades hasn't been an easy adaptation.

"Obviously, the movie can't be as explicit as the book," De Luca said. "The book is explicit by design because the author wanted to go inside the head of Anna -- the female lead -- and detail her experience. On the literary level, that was necessary. But in a film or any visual medium, a picture is worth a thousand words. To be erotic onscreen is going to have more power than to read the words on a page."

He added that adapting the book was easier for him than it was for author EL James. "We had to lose some stuff. We had to create some stuff," he said. "Because with the dramatic arc, it's a two-hour, three-act structure. … Charlie Hunnam [who dropped out of the production] wanted certain things for his character in the adaptation." 

De Luca said he is taking his lead from Adrian Lyne.

"[Lyne's movies] are classy and erotic without being exploitative," he said.

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As for his new job, De Luca said he will have to switch his mindset from his current way of operating as a producer.

"Studios are an assembly line," he said. "They can be a very good assembly line. As a producer, you concentrate on one project at a time. As an executive, you're in charge of a slate."

When asked which fellow producers he most admired, De Luca named several including Scott Rudin, Spike Jonze and David Heyman. "I just want to stand next to him so some of it rubs off on me," De Luca said of Heyman, producer of the Harry Potter movies and Gravity.

The breakfast, which took place in the basement of ChefDance at Memorial Building on Main Street, drew a phalanx of producers including Ron Yerxa (Nebraska), Ralph Winter (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and Lynette Howell (The Place Beyond the Pines). There were heavy hearts among the assembled group as news spread that producer James Jacks (Dazed and Confused, The Mummy) had passed away. 

"I have such fond memories of him at Dan Tana's, holding court," De Luca told The Hollywood Reporter. "He was totally unpretentious. He was such a great guy."

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