Continuing our invesigation into what makes stories click with an audience, Neil Gaiman’s blog quotes a rather interesting interview with producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who produced the STARDUST film (adapting the illustrated novel by Gaiman and Charles Vess), CONSTANTINE and TRANSFORMERS among other things.
Q: How has it been going on that as well?
Lorenzo di Bonaventura: Exceedingly well. It’s a weird thing to say. I don’t think everybody’s going to love the movie because it’s not a movie that’s designed to be that and yet when we went and tested it, they really flipped for it so it caught me off guard. It was a movie where I expected to have a larger portion of the audience go ‘well, that’s sort of out there. I’m not sure it’s for us.’ And what happened was that we delivered I think the romance so spectacularly well – Matthew (Vaughn) did such a good job with it – that it caught a segment of the audience in that I wasn’t expecting.
Q: I’ve heard an anecdote along those lines saying that the studio was afraid to call it a fairy tale similar to like a Princess Bride and that Matthew really wants to call it but that it’s sort of being discouraged.
Lorenzo di Bonaventura: That’s not true. We all have the same fear which is when you use the word fairy tale… It’s interesting. We learned this from the focus groups. When we asked them to describe the movie to us and then they would give us a description and then we’d say to them, ‘What do you think if we describe it as a fairytale?,’ they’d say ‘NOOOOO!’ like that and we’d go, ‘Whoa! Okay, alright! We’re not going to call it that!’ It was really sort of an interesting thing. Because it’s not a movie that fits into any simple genre — it is an adventure movie, it is a romance, it is a fantasy, it is Neil Gaiman’s bizarre world view — there’s going to be some struggle for us to find the way to voice this thing, so we’re really going to need you guys to help us actually. (Laughs) It’s true. We’re going to be a very print-driven movie.
Here you see a nice expression of the fear of the unknown when money is at stake. It’s why focus groups are evil and most Hollywood movies are homogenized crap. Di Bonaventura is surprised to find that an audience will accept a story that doesn’t fit the usual beats. Of course, what he isn’t taking into account is the fine construction of the story. It’s not a diss against Di Bonaventura — with so much at stake, he can’t take too many chances. I’ve written before about how director Sam Raimi’s off kilter sensibilities are an undeniable part of what has made the Spider-Man franchise one of the most successful in history. Audiences want to feel the familiar beats, yes, but they want to be surprised, they want to see something in a new way. They want quirks, because it reaffirms that people are like snowflakes — no two are alike. The beauty is in the difference, not the similarity.