Finding the right producer to shepherd bestselling erotic novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” to the screen is crucial for Brit author E.L. James. She and her lit agent Val Hoskins made the first decision, to let Universal Pictures (co-chairman Donna Langley was crucial) and specialty label Focus Features finance and release the film project. Scoring a franchise is the holy grail in Hollywood, and the success of “Harry Potter” and “Hunger Games” proves how crucial it is to do it smart.
So E.L. James and Hoskins met with Hollywood’s top producers this week to find the right fit. I will say here and now that a woman producer is a good idea. This material is intimate, sexually charged and aimed at women, and men are likely to make the mistake of trying to include the male audience in their sights. That would be disastrous. Half of the population is women, as Meryl Streep pointed out this week, and they also make women’s movies into hits, from “Bridesmaids” and “Mamma Mia!” to “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Iron Lady.”
Thus I lean toward the women on the short list of producers that Variety reports today. As strong as Michael DeLuca (‘A Social Network,” “Moneyball”), ex-Universal production chief Scott Stuber (who tends toward high-octane action flicks like bomb “Battleship”) and in-house Universal 500-pound gorillas Ron Howard and Brian Grazer (“A Beautiful Mind,” “Apollo 13”) may be, frequent Quentin Tarantino producers Stacey Sher and Michael Shamberg and “Hunger Games” producer Nina Jacobson (with Brad Simpson) would be better. Jacobson, however, will be deep in development and production on her “Hunger Games” sequels.
Despite my push toward a woman producer, the idea of letting Focus chief James Schamus (he wrote Ang Lee’s “The Ice Storm” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) take a stab at it is a good one. He’s an experienced, sensitive and intelligent writer who would appreciate the delicacies of this material.