Splitting last novel into two films means expensive talks
By MICHAEL FLEMING
The two-week $481 million worldwide gross of "New Moon" has vaulted Summit Entertainment into the big leagues, but it also has created a high-class challenge for toppers Rob Friedman and Patrick Wachsberger.
They will likely have to cut a few big checks if they decided, as rumored, to split Stephenie Meyer's final "Twilight" novel, "Breaking Dawn," into two pictures. Sources said Summit has set Melissa Rosenberg -- who wrote the first three films -- to finish the series, but Summit has to clear several hurdles before Rosenberg learns how many more scripts she'll write.
One of those hurdles is figuring out whether "New Moon" director Chris Weitz will respond favorably to overtures from the film company and the cast to shoot two more films, back to back.
Summit execs would not comment, but multiple sources said the company wants to go the two-film route, which means reopening negotiations and securing approval from the author. It also means making new deals with a principal cast that is only locked up for four films. If "Breaking Dawn" becomes two pictures, all of the key cast members will get fat raises, and the three principals -- Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner -- could land paydays in the eight-figure range.
That's what happened with key cast members when Warner Bros. extended its blockbuster "Harry Potter" franchise by turning J.K. Rowling's last book, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," into two films that will be released in November 2010 and July 2011. The global success of the franchise made the paydays worthwhile.
While the solution to most of Summit's challenges will be determined by its willingness to open its wallet, the prospect of a Weitz return is more complicated.
After feeling violated by New Line's altering of his pic "The Golden Compass," Weitz said he felt redeemed and reinvigorated by the success of "New Moon." Yet, just before the film's release, Weitz was steadfast that he would next direct "The Gardener," a comparatively tiny film scripted by Eric Eason, with Paul Witt and Christian McLaughlin producing. At the time, he said Summit was in discussions to fund that film.
Summit hasn't closed a deal for "The Gardener," probably because the film company wants Weitz to postpone it and work on "Breaking Dawn" instead. Can Weitz resist the chance to finish a global franchise he helped build, even though it will mean more time away from his family for a long shoot? That's the question the helmer and his reps will weigh shortly. Though Summit hasn't officially made Weitz an offer, sources said the job is his if he wants it. After bringing in "New Moon" at around $50 million and keeping the cast happy, he's the logical choice.
David Slade directed the next installment in the "Twilight" series, "Eclipse," which bows June 20.