So, this Valentine's Day weekend, my wife and I did the most predictable thing a couple could possibly do besides exchange roses and candy in heart-shaped boxes, go to dinner, and, later, try awkwardly to reclaim "the magic." We went to see Valentine's Day, the New Line event-picture starring Ashton Kutcher, Julia Roberts, Jessica Biel, Jessica Alba, Bradley Cooper, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Patrick Dempsey, Anne Hathaway, Queen Latifah, Taylor Lautner, Taylor Swift... etc. etc. and I guess this is exactly why I bring this all up: When does that list stop meaning anything to anyone? At McSomething Eric Dane? Child starlet Emma Roberts? Do the eyes start to glaze at the mention of that 70's Venom Topher Grace?
I heard a rumor that another, smaller studio passed on the Valentine's Day script because the studio execs didn't think they could corral the star power necessary to effectively get the project off the ground. Also, New York magazine reported last week that Julia Roberts was paid $3 million dollars to appear in the film for all of six minutes. They did the math so you don't have to:
"New Line Cinema paid Roberts $3 million up front against 3 percent of the gross for what is little more than an extended cameo. That comes out to an astonishing $8,333 per second of screen time, or roughly $500,000 a minute. Verbally, it's a minimum of $11,952 per spoken word."
Now, Valentine's Day has an expiration date, of course. By next week, ticket sales for the movie will likely plummet just because the subject matter will be staler than a chocolate cherry. So it makes sense that the filmmakers would want to haul in as much profit as conceivable right out of the gate. To that end, they stacked the deck, hoping that whatever they paid out in actor's fees would be balanced by an impressive opening. I haven't seen the exact numbers, but apparently the plan worked. Valentine's Day was number one at the box office this weekend.
I'm neither offering, nor looking for any sort of comprehensive critique of the film. But as a screenwriter endeavoring to work in the romantic comedy genre, I am very interested in how important stars are in drawing audiences -- that's you guys -- to a film, especially one they might otherwise not see. And what is it about certain celebrities that hooks you? I admit it, Julia Roberts' smile still gets me, and I often find Ashton Kutcher charming even in the service of drab material.
Sometime last summer, I was in Blockbuster and a middle-aged black man walked in looking for a rental. The clerk suggested the U.S. remake of the Asian horror film, The Eye. The clerk couldn't quite articulate to the man what the movie was about, but as it turns out, it didn't matter. Once the man found out the movie starred Jessica Alba, he said something similar to "All she has to do is stick her ass out and walk around and I'm in." He then rented The Eye.
Is it really that simple?