Ender’s Game, Profit Participation, Box Office
Folks are asking me whether I think this report that Orson Scott Card will see nothing from the box office gross of Ender’s Game is accurate, some of them, I suspect, hoping that his not making additional monies from the film means they can go see it without feeling guilty about tangentially supporting Mr. Card and his less-than-very nice positions regarding gays and lesbians.
Leaving aside the fact that the story is nicely timed to target die-hard SF fans on the fence about seeing the film, which is something one might wish to consider, and fully acknowledging that, regardless of my professional knowledge of the film industry, I have not seen Mr. Card’s film contract and am thus talking straight out of my own ass in terms of actual facts, some thoughts:
1. It wouldn’t surprise me if in fact Mr. Card sees no additional direct income from the film. Writers of a film’s source material (whose names are not JK Rowling or something similar) are often paid upfront and/or offered token “net” points (which will never be realized because no film in Hollywood ever gets out of the red, thanks to imaginative accounting) and/or have at best some clauses that offer an additional set payout if certain box office benchmarks are met. It’s entirely possible, and even probable, that Mr. Card’s contract is structured so that he’s been all paid up at this point.
(Alternately, it’s possible that he previously did have some profit participation and that it was determined by the powers that be that this would be bad PR for the film, so they bought out his profit participation. Be aware that a) possible here does not mean at all likely, b) I am going to reiterate my position of talking out of my ass here.)
2. Yes, but what about Mr. Card’s producer credit on the film? Isn’t that indicative of gross points? If he was an actively participating producer, i.e., engaged in the day-to-day production on the film, it might. On the other hand, if the producer credit was given as a courtesy and/or for Mr. Card’s shepherding of the film through its famously drawn-out development period, he might have simply gotten a check and some more net points. Not all producers on a film are equal.
3. Regardless, Mr. Card appears to have been paid very well for his participation in the film up to this point — the article suggests he’s earned more than a million dollars to date, a sum which strikes me as entirely likely. Even if he does not directly make another penny from the film, he already has more than enough in his pocket.
4. Likewise, the novel of Ender’s Game is doing exceedingly well at the moment — it’s number one on the New York Times paperback bestseller list, as I understand, and it’s likely to continue to do very well through the rest of the year regardless of how the film does. Mind you, the book does very well anyway; it sells hundreds of thousands of copies a year, year after year, and has done so for decades. Other books in the Ender series also sell very well perennially. Mr. Card does make money from the book sales, even if he does not benefit from the film.
5. Thus it should be noted that if one is planning to boycott the film Ender’s Game to punish Mr. Card financially, the boycott has already failed. Mr. Card is already benefiting from the massive exposure the film has afforded his book and his work. 2013 is likely to go down as one of Mr. Card’s best years, financially speaking, even if the film adaptation of his book tanks. At the very best, solely from a financial point of view, a successful boycott of the film would be for Mr. Card the difference between a massively financially successful year and an absurdly massively financially successful year.
Likewise, unless Mr. Card has been exceptionally foolish with his money to this point, even if he never sold another book in his life from today, and no one ever made another movie from his work, it’s entirely possible he’s still financially secure for the rest of his life, given the totality of his sales to this point.
This is not to suggest people who are boycotting the film (or Mr. Card’s work in general) are wrong or foolish to do so; as I’ve noted before, people should follow their conscience with regard to what entertainments and which creators to support. Mr. Card, however, is likely not suffering financially for it.
6. Variety projects that Ender’s Game will finish out the weekend with $27 million in domestic box office. That seems about right to me, given the time of year and the reviews to date, which have been good-to-mixed. I think Variety’s guess is actually slightly high; I’d guess between $20 million and $25 million.
This also suggests that the film will probably end up somewhere between $60 million and $90 million in total domestic box office, which seems to me about right as well. I also suspect it will do about 2:1 business overseas, which means globally I suspect the film will make between $180 million and $300 million. It has the advantage of not having any strong direct competition this week (the only other major opener is the animated film Free Bird, which skews younger). It’s going to get hammered (sorry) by the new Thor film in its second week.
In short, I expect this film to be solid (and profitable in the long run) but not stratospheric in terms of box office. It’s likely to be a double, not a home run. If Ender’s Game ends up markedly south of $20 million for the weekend, then I think it would be reasonable to suggest that the controversies around the production and Mr. Card had had an effect. If the films clears $30 million for the weekend, that raises some interesting questions, too.
7. Let me note, as I have before, that I am not an entirely disinterested observer in the box office success of Ender’s Game. My book Old Man’s War is currently set up at Paramount. If Ender does really well, then that’s likely to be a positive for any eventual green light on my book; if it flops massively, then, well, that’s probably not the best thing for me. Mr. Card (whom I have met and had a pleasant time speaking to) and I have diametrically opposing views on a number of political subjects, most notably same-sex marriage. I fully support the choice of any person not to see Ender’s Game based on their feelings about Mr. Card. I also, and for entirely selfish reasons, hope the film does not flop.
Update 11/3/13: Ender’s Game ended up as the #1 film for the weekend, with an estimated weekend gross of $28 million, slightly higher than Variety’s estimate (and somewhat higher than my estimate). It did not flop.