Conan: The Barbarian Screenwriter Explains What It's Like to Have Your Movie Flop
Posted 08.24.11 by BrentJS
With lavish sets, an exotic filming location, and a hunky lead star (Jason Momoa), Conan: the Barbarian was supposed to be a hit, the start of a whole new franchise based on Robert E. Howard's iconic barbarian. Instead, earning a meager $10 million its opening weekend on a $90 million budget, the movie is already in consideration for "biggest bomb of 2011."
Because of Conan's obvious failure to connect with audiences, many have begun to ask how those involved could have gotten it so wrong and whether they even realized they had created a "bomb" before the movie hit theaters. In fact, the question has been posed by so many that script doctor Sean Hood (who joined Conan to perform rewrites on the original script) took to the Q&A site Quora to offer a rather lengthy answer to the question: "What's it like to have your film flop at the box office?"
Seeing Conan's opening numbers was "devastating," Hood said. "A movie's opening day is analogous to a political election night," and he had "similar feelings of disappointment and disillusionment" when his "candidate lost a presidential bid."
The Friday night of the release is like the Tuesday night of an election. "Exit polls" are taken of people leaving the theater, and estimated box office numbers start leaking out in the afternoon, like early ballot returns. You are glued to your computer, clicking wildly over websites, chatting nonstop with peers, and calling anyone and everyone to find out what they've heard. Have any numbers come back yet? That's when your stomach starts to drop.
By about 9 PM its [sic] clear when your "candidate" has lost by a startlingly wide margin, more than you or even the most pessimistic political observers could have predicted. With a movie its much the same: trade magazines like Variety and Hollywood Reporter call the weekend winners and losers based on projections. That's when the reality of the loss sinks in, and you don't sleep the rest of the night.
For the next couple of days, you walk in a daze, and your friends and family offer kind words, but mostly avoid the subject. Since you had planned (ardently believed, despite it all) that success would propel you to new appointments and opportunities, you find yourself at a loss about what to do next. It can all seem very grim.
You make light of it, of course. You joke and shrug. But the blow to your ego and reputation can't be brushed off. Reviewers, even when they were positive, mocked Conan The Barbarian for its lack of story, lack of characterization, and lack of wit. This doesn't speak well of the screenwriting — and any filmmaker who tells you s/he "doesn't read reviews" just doesn't want to admit how much they sting.
Unfortunately, the work I do as a script doctor is hard to defend if the movie flops. I know that those who have read my Conan shooting script agree that much of the work I did on story and character never made it to screen. I myself know that given the difficulties of rewriting a script in the middle of production, I did work that I can be proud of. But its still much like doing great work on a losing campaign. All anyone in the general public knows, all anyone in the industry remembers, is the flop. A loss is a loss.
In closing, Hood offered a heart-warming story about his own father's perseverance in the face of adversity and offered a quote from Golden Turkey–awarded "Worst Director of All Time," Ed Wood:
My next one will be BETTER!
Next Showing: Conan: The Barbarian
is currently in theaters