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There's a fair amount of online chatter this week about the impending purchase of Summit Entertainment by Lionsgate, and while I've seen a fair degree of snark and a lot of "Twilight" related comments, this is a significant deal, and it deserves some real consideration about what it means to the creative community and what it means for both companies.
First, if I'd known that Summit was selling for a mere $412.5 million, I might have made a bid on it myself. What a bargain.
I kid, but that number seems low when you look at the success of Summit's "Twilight" movies. The truth is that for many people, Summit IS "Twilight" and vice-versa, and the question of what they might be after that series ends is a scary one. I've often said that both the best and the worst thing that ever happened to New Line was "Lord Of The Rings." Best because of the huge financial and critical success they enjoyed, finally winning a Best Picture Oscar, something that would have been impossible to imagine in the "Pink Flamingos"/"A Nightmare On Elm Street" early days of the company, but worst because after they made "Lord Of The Rings," they started chasing that success, making much more expensive movies and eventually pricing themselves right out of business.
Summit is in the home stretch now on "Twilight," and while that last film is a safe bet to be a monster hit, the rest of their current slate is riskier and there's no guarantee they'll ever have the sort of across-the-board success again that they've had with "Twilight." What makes sense here is that Lionsgate would see this as the moment to step in, since they've had a long and successful history of buying other companies. They've built a robust catalog of home video titles by buying up Artisan and Trimark, and they've been very good at handling the assets they've accumulated as they've purchased these companies.
The best case scenario is that the new resulting company on the other side of this purchase makes good use of both Summit and Lionsgate executives, building both companies into something stronger. Lionsgate has a great marketing arm, engaged and focused, and the guys in charge of publicity at Summit are some of my favorites in the business, many of them having cut their teeth at Disney. It appears that Summit's Rob Friedman and Patrick Wachsberger are both going to serve as heads of the new film division, and according to one article I read today, the plan is to make four movies out of the three "Hunger Games" books. I guess that's the new game plan with these literary franchises… always turn that last book into two movies to squeeze that one last victory lap out. Wachsberger is well known for his work in the international marketplace, and if there's any lesson that studios had to take away from 2011's box-office, it was that international is more important than ever before.
It also has to make Lionsgate feel good to have the team in place that turned "Twilight" from a series of successful books into a genuine global movie phenomenon, because they've got a lot riding on "Hunger Games." I think the Collins novels are a strong starting point, far better than anything with the name "Twilight" on it, but that doesn't mean they'll automatically match the success of that series. You're still betting on fairly untested names like Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, and you're dealing with violence involving kids and some heavy themes over the course of the series.
I recently was talking to someone who works at Summit, and they told me that it was the best company they ever worked for, with top executives who were approachable, and with everyone feeling like they were part of the same team, no matter what department they were in. Summit inspired real loyalty in the people who worked there, and so I'm curious to see if they can maintain that identity as they're folded into the larger Lionsgate, and if so, how that affects the corporate climate at Lionsgate in general. This is a sprawling company, not centralized the way Summit was, and they've got their own way of doing things.
The thing that saddens me here is now there's one less buyer in the marketplace, one less place for filmmakers to go to try to set something up or get something released. You've got one combined unit that may be stronger than either of the individual companies, but as our entire industry seems to contract, making safer and safer choices out of fear, it was good to have two mini-majors out there making these choices. One can only hope that they continue to make just as many movies, only under the one combined banner.
Unless you're a Summit stockholder (and they're probably dancing in the streets right now), there's no immediate impact here. But in the long run, this absolutely matters, and it will be important to watch how this company defines itself in the next few years.
Now let's get busy on that "Bella Swan versus Katniss Everdeen" film, gentlemen. You'll never stop printing the money that will make you.
"The Hunger Games" arrives in theaters March 23, 2012.
"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2" arrives in theaters November 16, 2012.