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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Dear John

Live chat with 'The Lucky One's' Nicholas Sparks on Oct. 13

October 7, 2011 |  6:30 am

Live chat with Nicholas Sparks

Nicholas Sparks, whose book "The Lucky One" is getting the big-screen treatment in April, will be joining us for a live online chat on Thursday, Oct. 13, starting at 10 a.m. PDT.

Sparks is a popular and prolific author with more than a dozen novels to his name, the latest of which, "The Best of Me," hits shelves Oct. 11. His previous titles include "The Notebook," "A Walk to Remember," "Dear John" and "The Last Song." The upcoming adaptation of "The Lucky One," starring Zac Efron as a Marine trying to find a mystery woman who he believes was his good luck charm during the war in Iraq, is Sparks' seventh book to be made into a movie.

Warner Bros. has also bought film rights to "The Best of Me," a tear-inducing tale of former high school sweethearts who reunite 25 years later. Sparks is co-producing the movie with Denise DiNovi, who produced "The Lucky One," and filming is scheduled to start in 2012.

To schedule a reminder for the chat, just fill out the form below. And be sure to join us Thursday.


Zac Efron's (halting) reinvention

Nicholas Sparks has to be feeling lucky

What's it really like working with Miley Cyrus? Just ask Julie Anne Robinson

— Noelene Clark

Photo: Nicholas Sparks in 2010. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times.

Box-Office Crazy Glue: As Avatar tries to maintain its grip, the secret to a long hold

February 5, 2010 |  5:59 pm

Box-office pundits, including our own colleague Ben Fritz, are abuzz over the question of whether "Dear John" could finally take down "Avatar" at the box office this weekend, knocking the film off its No. 1 perch for the first time since it opened the week before Christmas.

To do that, the Nicholas Sparks-derived tearjerker would probably need to make at least $20 million and hope that enough Avatar-inclined men stay home in anticipation of the Peyton Manning show on Sunday; in other words, prospective filmgoers would need to opt for the man in blue over the blue men.

That's a tall order even on Super Bowl weekend, and even as "Avatar" has been in theaters for nearly two months. "Dear John" simply may not be tearjerky enough -- the premiere we attended didn't include nearly as many in the crowd reaching for Kleenexes as you might have expected -- and Sparks has a tendency toward solid but not overwhelming numbers his first frame out. (The last three films based on his books all opened remarkably close to one another, in the $12-million to $14-million range.)

But "Avatar's" uncanny knack for avoiding drops comes from more than just its ability to squash lesser films in its path (particularly the lesser films of January and February). It's something inherent to the movie and, indeed, to all movies with more staying power than the guy in the Cialis commercial. "Twilight" and "Transformers" may be cultural phenomena, able to attract 8 million or 9 million people in a single stroke. But the long hold requires a more subtle skill: the ability to stay in the public consciousness long enough to roust people who never thought they'd want to see your movie -- marketing by attrition, in a way -- or luring those who've seen it before to come out again. You need, in other words, a profound ability to renew yourself.

A look back at the films that have managed to do this  -- all but one released before the start of the big-opening/quick-drop era of the 1990s (that one exception was, of course, "Titanic," the king of the long hold) shows a telling pattern. Of the top 10 holds in movie history, several films -- "Back to the Future," "E.T," "Fatal Attraction" --are particular types of cultural conversation pieces that come along just a couple times in a generation, and are going to do repeat business just by dint of their place in the zeitgeist.

But most of the others are not nearly as distinctive, more like movies everyone enjoyed but few would deem groundbreaking. They do all share something, else, though: nearly all combine several distinct and unlikely genres.

"Ghostbusters," for instance (which held for 10 consecutive weeks)  is a supernatural adventure with a "Saturday Night Live" level of comedy. "Crocodile Dundee" (nine weeks) is a fish-out-of-water comedy and an outback adventure. "Beverly Hills Cop" (14 weeks) is a fish-out-of-water comedy that's also a (relatively) dense police procedural. Even "Titanic" combined one movie with another: Cameron-esque spectacle and a melodramatic love story (and Leonardo DiCaprio, a genre unto himself).

It's admittedly hard to pinpoint a single overarching reason why a film will hold the top spot for months. But given these examples, it's also clear that when you have one movie that's really two, you may also have a film that will be flocked to by one audience and then quietly, over time, discovered by another.

In this light, Avatar's achievement is even more surprising,since it's really only trying to be  one thing -- an action epic (that love story isn't exactly "Gone With the Wind)." But it does bring a second element -- only it's not narrative, but technological. Most people buying tickets to the Cameron-fest at this late date may not have been initially interested but are coming out because they want to see if the film really looks as good or as different as everyone says it does. Or, as the anecdotal reports are suggesting, they've seen it, but they want to see it again in a different format. Sometimes it's good to have comedy to go along with your action. And sometimes it's just good to have some cool-looking blue people.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: "Avatar." Credit: 20th Century Fox

Nicholas Sparks has to be feeling lucky

February 1, 2010 |  6:47 pm

ChGet ready for more messages in more bottles.

The adaptation of Nicholas Sparks' tearjerker "Dear John" is already tracking well at the box office, with the tissue industry bracing for the attendant surge in demand. Now another Sparks-derived romantic drama could be making a leap forward.

Producers on the Sparks adaptation "The Lucky One," which has been percolating along nicely in development at Warner Bros., are closing in on a director. Scott Hicks, best known for the 1996 hit "Shine," is the front-runner to direct the picture, with the director and executives at  Warner Bros. scheduled to meet and come to their decisions shortly.

"Lucky One," which is produced by longtime Sparks collaborator Denise Di Novi, involves a Marine who, while on a tour of duty in Iraq, finds a photo of a mysterious woman. He stashes away the photo for good luck and then uncovers a group of secrets when he eventually seeks out the woman. The latest version of the script, written by Will Fetters (who wrote the upcoming Rob Pattinson romantic drama "Remember Me"), is said to be in very good shape, and the project is considered a priority for the studio.

There's no actor attached yet, though producers have previously had preliminary discussions with James Franco about the lead role.

If the movie reaches the screen, it could create a veritable Sparks bonanza -- three movies based on the author's work in a very short span.

"Dear John," the military-flavored romance starring Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried, premieres tonight in Hollywood before opening this weekend. (The movie, for those who haven't snuggled up with the book and a cup of cocoa, is about a U.S. soldier who meets an activist college student and has a long-term, at times long-distance, relationship with her.)

And in early April, Sparks could expand his core demographic when Disney releases "The Last Song" as a feature vehicle for Miley Cyrus. Sparks wrote "Song" initially as a screenplay with Cyrus in mind (he later adapted it into a novel), crafting a story of a teenage girl who reconnects with her estranged father over a music-filled summer.

Studios are wise to look to Sparks. Adaptations of the author's work may not be racking up Academy Awards, but he has proven a fan favorite -- and a reliable author to lean on for mid-budget romances. Each of the four movies based on his books ("Message in a Bottle," "A Walk to Remember," "The Notebook" and "Nights in Rodanthe") has earned at least $40 million domestically, while one ("The Notebook") doubled that number and earned $81 million. And Sparks has written at least one book every year since 1998, giving studios plenty of material to draw from.

As for Hicks, he's recently moved between more commercial comedies and artier films. Nominated for two Oscars for the piano-player drama "Shine," he most recently directed Clive Owen in the single-parent drama "The Boys Are Back," but before that mined relationship territory with "No Reservations," the restaurant-set romantic comedy starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart.

--Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried in "Dear John." Credit: Scott Garfield/Screen Gems


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