‘Conan’ Writer Explains What It’s Like to Bomb

Last weekend, Conan the Barbarian opened to a meager $10 million, and while it could very well make a ton of money over the next few weeks and eventually in DVD and Blu-Ray, it’s a complete bomb. The remake of the Arnold Schwarzenegger semi-classic cost $90 million, and it’s very likely that horrendous reviews and a complete lack of star power doomed the new version from the start.

And while we hope that some producers have removed their noses from the mountains of cocaine that make these remakes seem like good ideas and taken notice, they probably haven’t and we’ll likely never see the end of these doomed turds. But at least one of the people responsible for Conan recognizes that there’s something wrong with the entire process.

Sean Hood is one of the four writers responsible for Conan the Fartbrarian (trademark pending) and he posted his thoughts and feelings on what it’s like to bomb at the box office on the website Quora yesterday. Hood explained:

When you work “above the line” on a movie (writer, director, actor, producer, etc.) watching it flop at the box office is devastating. I had such an experience during the opening weekend of Conan the Barbarian 3D.

And the pity party only gets worse from there. Excerpts after the jump.

A movie’s opening day is analogous to a political election night. 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.

In this analogy, Conan is Walter Mondale, Howard Dean, Ralph Nader, and David Duke all rolled into one.

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. During that process whatever anger, frustration, or disagreement you have with the candidate/film you keep to yourself. Privately you may oppose various decisions, strategies, or compromises; you may learn things about the candidate that cloud your resolve and shake your confidence, but you soldier on, committed to the end. You rationalize it along the way by imagining that the struggle will be worth it when the candidate wins.

In fairness, Hood could be Aaron Sorkin 2.0 and it won’t matter, because his screenplay is going to be ripped to shreds and re-glued together 10 times over. Every screenwriter knows that. That’s why he shouldn’t take this so seriously or personally. If Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg keep getting work, he’ll be fine.

You hope that advertising and word of mouth will improve the numbers, and even as the numbers get tighter and the omens get darker, you keep telling yourself that things will turn around, that your guy will surprise the experts and pollsters. You stay optimistic. You begin selectively ignoring bad news and highlighting the good. You make the best of it. You believe.

Did you watch the trailer and the commercials?

The Friday night of the release is like the Tuesday night of an election. “Exit polls”are taken of people leaving the theater, and estimated box office numbers start leaking out in the afternoon, like early ballot returns. You are glued to your computer, clicking wildly over websites, chatting nonstop with peers, and calling anyone and everyone to find out what they’ve heard. Have any numbers come back yet? That’s when your stomach starts to drop.

Maybe next time try sitting in a theater and whispering in different voices, “Hey this movie is great! Best movie ever! More like WHOAnan!”

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.

Then don’t read Vince’s review.

Unfortunately, the work I do as a script doctor is hard to defend if the movie flops. I know that those who have read my Conan shooting script agree that much of the work I did on story and character never made it to screen. I myself know that given the difficulties of rewriting a script in the middle of production, I made vast improvements on the draft that came before me. But its still much like doing great work on a losing campaign. All anyone in the general public knows, all anyone in the industry remembers, is the flop. A loss is a loss.

Dude, chill out. Your previous work is Halloween: Resurrection, The Crow: Wicked Prayer and Cube 2: Hypercube. I don’t think anyone is expecting blockbusters.