Synopses & Reviews
Every weekend, some of the most powerful players in Hollywood hold their breath and wait to be told a number. Years of work, tens of millions of dollars, and entire careers will be judged against this number. Within hours, it will be reported on the morning news and become a topic of idle conversation across the country. The number determines a movie's ultimate destiny, It is the art and science of filmmaking distilled to a few digits and a dollar sign. It is the opening weekend box office gross.
On July 4, 2003, three highly touted studio soldiers were sent to battle for the hearts and souls (and wallets) of American moviegoers. That was the weekend that Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator 3 collided with Reese Witherspoon's Legally Blonde 2 and Brad Pitt's Sinbad in thousands of theaters across America. In Open Wide, veteran Hollywood journalists Dade Hayes and Jonathan Bing brilliantly illuminate this quest for box office supremacy, chronicling the nerve-wracking months leading to that summer showdown, following every key decision that took these movies into the nation's multiplexes. They watch as focus groups of suburban teenage girls critique movie trailers and advertising campaigns. They are in Cannes when Terminator 2 robots are unleashed and in London for Legally Blonde 2's lavish, chaotic press junket. A mammoth convention in Las Vegas finds celebrities and studio executives mingling awkwardly with small-town theater owners and vendors hawking high-concept snacks for adventurous concession stands. The films are screened, tested, and frantically re-cut. Publicity stunts are engineered and theater exhibition chains are booked. Star egos are stroked and the Terminator himself announces his campaign for the California statehouse. As the clock ticks down to July 4, opening weekend becomes a moment of eager expectation for some and utter dread for others. And, inevitably, the numbers arrive.
Open Wide shines a bright light on the secretive inner workings of Hollywood's vast sales and marketing machine, past and present. As the authors explore how and why box office receipts have evolved from a closely guarded corporate secret to a national obsession, they bring acute insight to an industry that is increasingly devoted to producing the next big blockbuster the next high-concept, future-franchise picture that they can "open wide."
"Two Variety editors open readers' eyes wide to the inside story of Hollywood's relentless pursuit of fast maximum bucks in this engaging, informed look at the major films of the 2003 July Fourth weekend. Three big movies clashed at the box office from Wednesday, July 2, to Sunday, July 6: Terminator 3, Legally Blonde 2 and Sinbad. Hayes and Bing, writing smoothly together, consider each film primarily as a business product, bringing unprecedented attention to the massive marketing campaigns engineered by the respective studios (T3: Warner; LB2: MGM; Sinbad: DreamWorks). They follow Schwarzenegger through the publicity grind; sit with Mission Valley girls for a test screening of an early trailer for LB2; scrutinize the performance of DreamWorks marketing chief Terry Press at ShowWest in Las Vegas as she defends the hand-drawn Sinbad in the era of Shrek. Visits to myriad locations brighten the narrative (Technicolor's film processing plant; Schwarzenegger's vast office), while a smart history of blockbuster cinema, which the authors trace back past Jaws to Joseph E. Levine's Hercules and 1953's The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, deepens it. In this excellent book that's a must read for anyone passionate about the film business or cultural trends, the authors have created an intricate, suspenseful and learned chronicle of the confluence of money and art. Agent, Dan Strone, Trident Media. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Mr. Hayes and Mr. Bing accomplish the unusual feat of collecting enough arcane detail to cast new light on this process and do it without cattiness, writing in a style almost unknown to film-business chronicles." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"[A] major success. With wit and insight, the authors have used their access to take a trenchant look at behind-the-scenes Hollywood. Their narrative drive is superior to that of most blockbusters." Library Journal
"The writing by Hayes and Bing...soars way over the trade-periodical bar, though it occasionally drifts into technical insider lingo....The book is a must for the novice director or studio exec and is likely to fascinate even the most jaded Hollywood junkie." Lynda Obst, The Los Angeles Times
"Hayes and Bing are not the first to dissect the phenomenon of box office blockbusters. But they should be commended for writing a better book than their boss at Variety
, Peter Bart
..." San Francisco Chronicle
"[A] lens that lacks the power of a macro-overview and the detail of a micro-inspection, leaving the authors somewhere in no-man's land." The Wall St. Journal
"Lively and intelligently researched, Open Wide is valuable chiefly because it gives a fairly clear picture of how the realities of the marketplace affect what movies get made, and how." Stephanie Zacharek, The New York Times Book Review
"With precision and insight, authors Hayes & Bing rightly expose how the box office has become just another sporting event for the armchair quarterbacks of America." Neil LaBute, writer and director of The Shape of Things and Your Friends and Neighbors
"Thrills! Terror! High stakes and down-to-the-wire, edge-of-your-seat tension... This smart, savage tale of battling blockbusters is more riveting than 99% of the movies you'll see this year." Jerry Stahl, author of I, Fatty and Permanent Midnight
"It's all here - the test screenings, the marketing strategies, the stars themselves - in this entertaining yet clear-eyed look behind the scenes of the business of show business." Jane Heller, author of Best Enemies and Lucky Stars
"Finally, a true insider's guide to the science, sins, and psychosis of movie marketing. Open Wide is a brilliant blow-by-blow account of a weekend battle of box office titans." Andy Bellin, author of Poker Nation
Looking just beyond Hollywood's red carpet, Variety editors Hayes and Bing offer an eye-popping ride from the cutting room to projection booth on the summer's biggest blockbuster weekend.
About the Author
Dade Hayes is managing editor of special reports at Variety
. His writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times
, TV Guide
, and Premiere
. He lives in Santa Monica.
Jonathan Bing is deputy managing editor at Variety. His writing has appeared in The Nation, Entertainment Weekly, and The Village Voice. He lives in Los Angeles.