Nobody likes to fail — especially when that failure is massively public; known by everyone for whom you have respect, as well as those whose respect you were hoping to gain in the future.
So when someone on Quora asked, “What’s it like to have your film flop at the box office?,” screenwriter Sean Hood — whose $90 million film Conan the Barbarian 3D brought in a mere $10 million during its opening weekend — couldn’t help but answer.
“When you work ‘above the line’ on a movie (writer, director, actor, producer, etc.) watching it flop at the box office is devastating,” writes Hood. “I had such an experience during the opening weekend of Conan the Barbarian 3D.”
“A movie’s opening day is analogous to a political election night,” Hood continues. “Although I’ve never worked in politics, I remember having similar feelings of disappointment and disillusionment when my candidate lost a presidential bid, so I imagine that working as a speechwriter or a fundraiser for the losing campaign would feel about the same as working on an unsuccessful film.”
Hood then takes readers through the agonizing, painstaking process of devoting one’s life to making a big-budget Hollywood movie — one with a questionable future.
“Any film production, like a long grueling campaign over months and years, is filled with crisis, compromise, exhaustion, conflict, elation, and blind faith that if one just works harder, the results will turn out all right in the end,” writes Hood. And as D-day edges closer, and the preliminary researcher numbers begin to paint a gruesome picture of the film’s future, “[y]ou hope that advertising and word of mouth will improve the numbers… you keep telling yourself that things will turn around, that your guy will surprise the experts and pollsters.”
As we now know, Hood’s Conan did not turn around, an outcome that makes one question their entire future and career.
“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,” writes Hood.
He adds: “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.”
Hood says that, in the end, despite the staggering blow to his ego inflicted by Conan‘s low box office score, he learned from his musician father the age-old maxim, “If once you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
Godspeed, Mr. Hood. Your openness and honesty won’t go unnoticed.
Check out Sean Hood’s full account of bombing at the box office here. It’s well worth the read.