As you can see from the picture, the first proof copies of John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood have arrived. Next will be the arrival on Tuesday of Advance Reading Copies. Advance copies will be going to, among others, Disney management for their comments and clarifications. The goal is to get the details right in all respects, and while Disney has been reluctant to comment thus far, the hope is that upon seeing that it’s a substantive piece of work they may decided to allow a spokesperson to provide comments — we’re hoping for that.
Additionally, at the closing banquet of the ERB Centennial, ERB Inc. President Jim Sullos presented a copy to John Carter producer Jim Morris and there will be a similar process with Morris and the production team.
It’s important to understand that the goal of the book, as far as the portion of it that deals with “what really happened” is concerned, is simply to get it right. This is part of that process.
Also, I think it’s important to keep in mind the objective of the book — which is to make the case for not giving up on John Carter, and keep the conversation about continuing the film legacy of Barsoom and John Carter alive. Treating all of the people involved in the story with respect is an important part of ensuring that it does what it’s intended to do.
As it stands now, our plan is to officially launch on September 12. This will give us time to gather any last inputs from any party who wants to provide a clarification. It could slip another week or so if there are significant or unexpected inputs, or if they come in at the last minute.
Following is the Author’s Preface — which incorporates elements of the previous Foreword and replaces that Foreword.
In 1912 struggling Chicago businessman Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote A PRINCESS OF MARS, the tale of John Carter, a Virginia cavalryman mysteriously transported to Mars where he would find adventure and meaning in life alongside Dejah Thoris, the incomparable Princess of Helium. The story would lead to an eleven book series and become the wellspring of modern science fiction. Burroughs would go on to write TARZAN OF THE APES, and at the time of his death in 1950 was the best-selling author of the 20th century, with his books translated into 58 languages and outselling his contemporaries Hemingway, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald combined. His creation Tarzan was then, and remains today, the single most globally recognized literary character ever created.
In the 1960’s, countless minds of my generation encountered the extraordinary imagination of Edgar Rice Burroughs through the Ace and Ballantine paperback reprints that were published monthly, and which could be found in every drug store and corner newsstand throughout America. Already half a century old, the books felt as current as if they had been written yesterday, and we collected them all, 40 cents a copy, and read them multiple times.
Discovering Burroughs was not a lonely or isolated pursuit — the fans were legion. Gradually a long list emerged of scientists and storytellers, politicians and spiritual leaders, all of whom said that it was Burroughs who had caught their imagination and inspired them in their youth, among them Ray Bradbury, Arthur Clarke, Carl Sagan, Ronald Reagan, Jane Goodall, Billy Graham, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and James Cameron.
Burroughs’ writing was extraordinary vivid and detailed. The planet that he created seemed so real that many of us felt almost as if we had lived there, or could live there–more than that, it induced a yearning to want be there and experience the world of our dreaming, and thus it was that for decades a movie of Barsoom played in our minds, while Hollywood attempted to create a real movie. But Hollywood couldn’t quite pull it off — the imagination of Burroughs, for decade after decade after he wrote A Princess of Mars in the fall of 1911, continued to exceed Hollywood’s capacity to create. Meanwhile some of our greatest film-makers made liberal use of scenes, images, and ideas from Burroughs’ Barsoom: Star Wars and Avatar in particular drew heavily upon Burroughs, mining it for creative inspiration.
But they were not the original, and we still yearned for that.
Then in 2008 Disney announced that Andrew Stanton, Director of Wall-E and Finding Nemo, would be directing a film version of A Princess of Mars and in January 2010 filming began — and with the knowledge that filming had begun, all of those who had been waiting for decades through one false alarm after another, knew that at long last this cherished source-work of imaginative fiction would finally make it to the screen. We owed Stanton and Disney a deep debt of gratitude for bringing a film such as this to the screen, and to the world.
But then the dream slowly, and inexorably, turned to a nightmare.
Everyone who has followed Disney’s John Carter now knows the basic outline of what happened. The film cost at least $250M to make and $100M to market; it opened poorly in the US, better overseas, and 10 days into the theatrical run Disney announced it was taking a $200M write-down due to its high cost, which meant that even with $280M in global box office gross, it was still a financial failure. John Carter was declared to be a failed enterprise. It was game over.
Fans, meanwhile, rallied to support the continuation of the series, and the film began to grow a steadfast and persistent cult following. While Disney has not officially ruled out a sequel nor returned the rights to the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate, it is generally considered to be settled knowledge in “the industry” that Disney has no intention of continuing the series.
Against this background, John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood says “Not so fast!” and attempts to achieve an in-depth understanding of what really happened with a view toward keeping open the question of whether or not continuation of the series is justified. It asks:
1) What is the true value of the literary property? What was it about Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1912 story that caused it to be so wildly popular and influential in the first place? Why, exactly, did scientists and storytellers from Carl Sagan to Ray Bradbury to George Lucas to James Cameron find inspiration in the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs? Why has it been in print continuously for 100 years? What was his particular genius? And have the film adaptations and borrowings from Burroughs fully harvested the value the old master presents, or is there untapped value there?
2) What is the full story of what went wrong with the release of John Carter? It is generally acknowledged that the marketing was ineffective — what, exactly, happened with the marketing? Why was it not only ineffective, but inactive in ways that are possible to document? How much of an impact did this have on the final performance? How much of a difference would effective marketing make?
3) John Carter earned close to $300M — a figure which, for example, earned fellow sci-fi adventure Prometheus ($309M Global Gross) a sequel. The difference is the high cost of production for John Carter. How did such a high cost of production come about? Would sequels necessarily cost as much?
4) A fan movement has grown up supporting the continuation of the John Carter series. What is the actual relevance, if any, of the fan movement? In the age of social media, what does the presence of such a movement mean to any possible sequel or reboot by Disney or another studio.
5)Given all factors, is there a bona fide business case for continuation of the series? How would it alter the equation if cost savings could be achieved by producing films 2 and 3 concurrently? What are the prospects of bringing in foreign coproduction partners from China and/or Russia — the two largest overseas markets where, in both cases, John Carter was a success? What other strategies could be employed to reduce risk for Disney and increase the likelihood of success?
To make the case that I have set out to make requires that I provide a detailed, critical look at all aspects of the film enterprise including the development, production, and the marketing campaign. This is not an exercise in simply finding fault and casting blame. The purpose is to show how the certain mistakes and assumptions, compounded by other mistakes and assumptions, created a “perfect storm” of errors that resulted in a film whose box office performance
fell vastly short of its potential. Making a final judgment as to sequels in a circumstance like that needs to proceed from a clear understanding of what went wrong, and how it might be corrected, in order to arrive at valid conclusions about the worth of the film asset that has been created, and the potential for a series.
In documenting damaging mistakes, inexplicable lapses in marketing activity, and the like, I have confined myself almost entirely to verifiable data with attribution that can be accessed via footnotes that have been provided, or in some cases through the use of social media and marketing research software that is readily available. I have provided full attribution from articles and public and private interviews. In the case of some private interviews which comprise a small percentage of the overall content, I agreed to respect the privacy requirements from interviewees who are under current and ongoing non-disclosure agreements, principally with the Walt Disney Studios. There are a relatively small number of occasions where attribution has not been possible; recognizing the importance of providing credible, verifiable sourcing, I have minimized the reliance on such non-attributable information.
My hope is that the “takeaway” of a reasonably openminded reader after reading this book will be a) that the underlying literary property truly is a treasure that has great value left in it; b) that correctable mistakes in the marketing of John Carter plus the presence now of a motivated fan base means that second and third films can reasonably be projected to do substantially better in their theatrical runs than the first film did; and c) that with smart, savvy efficiencies in production and the use foreign financing/coproduction options from territories where the film did well, a business case for successful continuation can be made.
Finally, I acknowledge and embrace the fact that this is personal for me. The imagination and storytelling genius of Edgar Rice Burroughs inspired me in countless ways in my youth. It gave me the confidence to pursue a life that has had its share of adventures and misadventures. first in service to my country, and later in pursuit of dreams that I believed in. I have had failures and made more than my share of mistakes, but it was Burroughs who taught me to give my all to things that I believe in, and my life has been richer for it. It was the old who taught me to believe in the power and possibility of the human spirit. I and others of like mind “pledge our metal” to his. If you think we’ll give up easily, consider the spirit of John Carter as it comes through in this passage:
“I knew though that it was but a question of minutes before their greater numbers would wear me down, or get around my guard. I must go down eventually to certain death before them. I shuddered at the thought of it, dying thus in this terrible place where no word of my end ever could reach my Dejah Thoris. …..
Then my old-time spirit reasserted itself. The fighting blood of my Virginian sires coursed hot through my veins. The fierce blood lust and the joy of battle surged over me. The fighting smile that has brought consternation to a thousand foemen touched my lips. I put the thought of death out of my mind, and fell upon my antagonists ……”
Or, in the words of Andrew Stanton’s John Carter: