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‘The Help': The Box-Office Hit That Nearly Didn’t Get Made

Like Kathryn Stockett’s much-rejected book manuscript, box-office dynamo ”The Help“ is the movie that almost wasn’t

Like Kathryn Stockett’s much-rejected book manuscript, "The Help" is a movie that almost wasn't.

Potent as co-producer Chris Columbus’ track record is — with such landmarks as “Home Alone” and an adaptation involving a kid named Harry Potter — the project got lots of studio rejections before it got traction.

But now DreamWorks’ Stacey Snider — who decided with partner Steven Spielberg to greenlight the film — is reaping the commercial benefits of what cannot have been an easy call.

Indeed, Snider turned the project down at first, when it was brought to her with newbie Tate Taylor (pictured at left with author Stockett) attached to write and direct.

Also read: How 'The Help' Grew From Women's Flick to Box-Office Powerhouse

She couldn't justify the cost with a first time director on board, but said, "call me if you don’t get it set up."         

“And by the time (Tate) called me, he had written the script, which was beautiful, and it proved more than just that he had ambition," she has said. "It proved that he actually had talent. Still doesn’t tell you if he can direct a movie, but when you read a script that was as emotional and respectful as it was, it was a good sign."

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Columbus praised Taylor's decision to feature one character’s narrative voice-over in the film, noting that there are three main voices in the book. “It’s not an easy translation," Columbus told TheWrap.

Taylor settled on Abileen — played by Viola Davis — for that role. "I thought that was brilliant,” Columbus said.

To lay a foundation for an old-school word of mouth campaign, the studio test-screened the film intensively with Columbus’ blessing: “I think it’s been the most-screened movie I’ve been involved with prior to release," he said.

"We just knew the movie had a tremendous amount of power to satisfy an audience, and DreamWorks and Disney just felt it was really important for people to see it and just talk about it," Columbus added. "And that’s really working in our favor.”

Clearly, it worked. Not only is Davis being talked about as a possible Oscar contender for Best Actress, there's also talk about whether Octavia Spencer as the irrepressible Minny, Allison Janney as the lead character's mom, Jessica Chastain as a “white trash” victim or Bryce Dallas Howard as a racist shrew might get Supporting Actress nods.

Asked to handicap such picks, Columbus groans.

“How do you even deal with that — I’m not even gonna answer any more of that, where do you begin?" he responded. "Yeah, it’s pretty crowded.”