Top Film Industry Stories #9: Nerdfighters Find No Fault With Stars
By Tim Briody
January 5, 2015
On the surface, The Fault In Our Stars is Nicholas Sparks for teens. It’s a love story about teenagers with terminal cancers - not exactly puppies and rainbows. There was nothing about this that screamed breakout. At the start of 2014, the five-hanky weeper was just a blip on the release schedule. John Green, the young adult novel’s author, was more well known as a YouTube vlogger than as an author.
In an era when studios are looking for the next big thing to hopefully become the next Harry Potter, Twilight or Hunger Games, the one-off The Fault In Our Stars wasn’t supposed to amount to anything. It was made for $14 million and going up against Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow, one of the bigger mismatches of the year on paper. Nothing extraordinary here, move along.
But you can never underestimate the power of Nerdfighters and a devoted fanbase.
When the trailer debuted, it had millions of views within 24 hours and shot the book to the top of Amazon’s best seller list. It had just the right mix of humor and romance and did not come off as overly sappy and saccharine, and if you were familiar with Green’s YouTube videos, his vlogging style is very much like his writing, clever and with heart. (Go ahead, search for him on YouTube and tell me you don't instantly become a fan. I'll wait.) Suddenly the box office prospects for The Fault in Our Stars were looking up.
But still, it couldn’t really have that much of an audience, right? It's a young adult novel adaptation aimed at teenage girls and that’s it. But then the buzz began. The book had a real community of fans, not a vocal minority, like, say, One Direction fans. Fandango reported record breaking sales as the release drew closer. That mismatch was still there, only now it was in favor of The Fault In Our Stars.
Fox knew that for a core group, this was the biggest film of the year (sorry, Guardians of the Galaxy). So in addition to the now obligatory Thursday night release, they held a showing of the film that was followed by a simulcast question and answer session with stars Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort and Green. Think of it as buying a ticket to a concert for your favorite band and getting front row seats. Tickets for this screening were $25-50, all of which counted towards box office and contributed to the ridiculous $8.2 million Thursday and $26 million Friday.
The success of this screening clearly set off the sound of cash registers in some executive's head. While I'm hard pressed to think of anything that would have such a supportive fanbase, I'm sure you can see how much potential extra revenue could possibly be earned here. How much you would pay for a Thursday night screening of Avengers 2 that had a Q&A session with, say, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth and Scarlet Johansson? Gotta beat the opening weekend record somehow, right? While there's a fine line between shameless cash grab and transcendent filmgoing experience, this is certainly a tactic I expect to see employed more often in 2015 and beyond.
That first Friday was obviously front-loaded, but by the time the weekend estimate of $48 million had come in, the game had changed when it came to movie marketing. Build a true grassroots fanbase and they will reward you when the time comes. The Fault In Our Stars earned $124 million total and became one of 2014's most profitable movies relative to budget, something that seemed highly unlikely even a month before its release.