The openly anti-gay author made his movie deal years ago — and there's no backend in it
Progressive people of the world, go ahead and see “Ender’s Game” this weekend with a clear conscience: Orson Scott Card won’t see a penny of your movie ticket money, TheWrap has learned.
Card’s volumes of anti-gay vitriol have sparked an “Ender’s Game” movie boycott movement that’s spanned multiple organizations, cities and social platforms in the lead-up to the film’s Friday release. Their common goal: To prevent the openly homophobic author from pocketing profits at the hands of enlightened moviegoers.
But multiple sources from both inside and outside the companies that produced the “Ender’s Game” film – distributor Summit Entertainment, visual effects company Digital Domain and book-rights holder OddLot Entertainment – tell TheWrap that Card’s fee has already been paid through a decade-old deal that includes no backend.
If you really want to hit Card where it hurts, boycott his book instead: Card still profits handsomely from the novel, perched at the top of the latest New York Times Best Seller List for paperback mass-market fiction (right).
Though it was whispered early on that Card’s contract had “escalators” – built-in box-office milestones with cash bonuses attached – individuals close to the film say he has no such profit participation.
And though Card takes a producing credit, he had zero say or creative input in the adaptation, according to all those involved with the movie who spoke with TheWrap about “Ender’s Game.” That stands in support of the idea that he’ll neither gain from its success, nor suffer from its failure.
The ink dried on Card’s current deal some 10 years ago, long before the emergence of Hollywood power authors like J.K. Rowling (“Harry Potter”), Stephenie Meyer (“Twilight”), Suzanne Collins (“The Hunger Games”) and E.L. James (“Fifty Shades of Grey”). Those women were outliers, making savvy deals that assured not only major profit participation, but also a major say in all kinds of decisions, from the script to the director to casting the leads.
That isn’t to say that Card, now a 62-year-old father of five, made a bum deal, wasn’t interested in his own material — or didn’t reap a king’s ransom from optioning “Ender’s Game.”
“It changes with every deal depending on the stature of the property and the author, how the picture is going to be financed and balancing all that out to decide if an author wants upfront cash versus backend participation,” said Jason Dravis, president of Monteiro Rose Dravis Agency, which has represented the authors of “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” and “The Hunger Games” in their deals. “There's no set rule or trend that I’ve seen going one way or the other. It really depends on the individual author's tolerance for risk.”
In Card’s case, it came down to a lack of tolerance for the protracted process.
After the book was published in 1985 to critical fanfare, its film adaptation bounced around for years, including an early stop at “Rocky” producer Robert Chartoff’s Chartoff Productions, which reportedly paid Card $1.5 million to develop the screenplay himself. He tinkered with it for several years but was never satisfied, and the project eventually landed at Warner Bros. in 2002.
By the time OddLot rescued it from studio development hell a few years later – assigning the screenplay reboot to director Gavin Hood – Card’s involvement, both creative and financial, had dissolved to virtually nil. For all intents and purposes, the “Ender’s Game” movie was out of his hands.
That hasn’t stopped Card from promoting the film on his website, Hatrack.com. This despite the fact that everyone involved with it, including the filmmakers and even star Harrison Ford, have made great pains to distance themselves from Card and his drumbeat of anti-gay rants. Summit/Lionsgate, which paid for less than 20 percent of the film long after Card’s involvement was minimalized, has long been recognized as an industry leader in recognizing same-sex partners and unions and promoting workplace diversity, partnered with Equality California for its Los Angeles “Ender’s Game” events.
Still, Card’s sociopolitical views have gotten him in hot water with several groups, perhaps none more vocal or organized than Geeks OUT, which has collected more than 11,000 pledges to boycott the movie on MoveOn.org and has put together “Skip ‘Ender’s Game’” events in New York, Toronto, Chicago, Orlando, Dallas, Austin, San Francisco and Seattle (see the petition statement, right).
“Queer geeks have far better things to do with our time and money than line up to profit someone who's spent decades advancing an anti-gay agenda that damages and demeans the LGBT community,” org board member Jono Jarrett told TheWrap.
When informed that Card would not benefit financially from “Ender’s Game” box office, Jarrett said it was “regrettable the way the film’s publicity has driven up book sales,” but that “I really feel like staying the course for Skip Ender's Game, certainly through our events on Friday … it's about how we as a community respond to the situation.
“If it turns out that the LGBT community's refusal to see ‘Ender’s Game’ carries more of a symbolic rejection of Card and his rhetoric than a financial one, I think that's still a powerful message to content providers,” Jarrett said.
As for those book sales, “Ender’s Game” has been a perennial bestseller, and is surely the top source of Card’s wealth. But its current No. 1 status has certainly been enhanced by the film’s marketing push.
“Having a movie coming out dramatically impacts book sales in a positive way,” Dravis told TheWrap. “I haven't studied what the multiples are on different titles to see if there’s any sort of average, but sometimes the economic impact for the author can be quite substantial.”
“Ender’s Game” publisher Tor Books, a science-fiction subsidiary of Macmillan Publishers, did not immediately respond to messages left by TheWrap. Attempts to reach Card directly via his literary agent were also unsuccessful. Also declining to comment were Summit/Lionsgate, OddLot Entertainment and Digital Domain.
Jeff Sneider, Brent Lang and Lucas Shaw contributed to this report