Thursday, October 20, 2011

Nancy Drew Blog Party Day 20: Nancy Drew Consulting - 2007 Nancy Drew Movie

Nancy Drew Consulting:
2007 Nancy Drew Movie

The biggest consulting job I've had was getting the opportunity to work on the 2007 Warner Brothers Nancy Drew movie. It was such a fun opportunity and in the end somewhat bittersweet due to the box office returns, fan critiques, and lack of a sequel. I'd definitely do it again--so Warner Brothers if you're out there listening--let's try and get it right with the fan base on try #2 :)

I recently dug through a massive file I kept with correspondence--e-mails and letters, contracts, legal forms, and other interesting items. Anything mailed and legal items were always marked "Privileged & Confidential." I dug through it just at the start and realize it's a project that will take some time and reflection to better catalog it. It all began about 6 1/2 years ago, when one April afternoon in 2005, I logged into my website e-mail and there was an e-mail from someone at Jerry Weintraub Productions contacting me about the movie. Before I get into the dance of joy that commenced, I'll give a bit of background previous to this e-mail.

I'd been hearing about Warner Brothers working on a new movie for a little while--in fact, the licensing/subrights man at Simon & Schuster had copied me on an e-mail to someone working on the pre-development part of the film over some questions--which I need to dig up to refresh, but I recall thinking about offering my services for consulting but was shy about it. When I was in New Orleans in 2005 for the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival on a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys panel, I spoke to Simon & Schuster and they mentioned that the movie folks were looking at actress Amanda Bynes for the role. I was luke warm about that choice, but open--it eventually went to Emma Roberts due to a scheduling conflict with Bynes. It was very shortly after I got back that I received that e-mail dated April 18, 2005 and here it was:

"Dear Jenn Fisher,

I work for Jerry Weintraub Productions at Warner Brothers and we are in the process of developing the feature film of Nancy Drew. We were wondering if your knowledge about Nancy Drew includes consulting for film. If you are interested in consulting for the feature film, please e-mail me."

Interested? Uh, yeah! I did a little dance and then quickly replied that why yes I'd love to :) I had no idea what that was going to entail and I'd never consulted on a film before so I was certainly a fish out of water to that.

Soon after I spoke on the phone with another person at JWP who had been doing some research on Nancy Drew--she had a script by Tiffany Paulsen and had been pushing the project at JWP/WB and they were in need of a consultant. She had found my website online. It was very random in a way that this consulting gig fell into my lap.

Let's start out with what I didn't do. I didn't get to work with everyone from cast to crew, top to bottom, spreading my knowledge about what would and wouldn't work and what they should and shouldn't do. I didn't get to consult on the wardrobe, set design, or casting. I wasn't a full service consultant.

What I did do, was work with the director, Andy Fleming, who was rewriting the script that Paulsen wrote. He needed someone who could research aspects of Nancy Drew, point him to specific things in the books he was looking for and things like that. We began to chat soon after I signed on to consult via phone and sometimes e-mail. I was sent a copy of the script eventually once first rewrites were done. Filming didn't begin until January 2006. After reading the final script I gave some critiques. I visited the set in March 2006 and spent 3 days watching it being filmed which was just so much fun and educational to see how a movie is filmed. They were on the sound stage at the time filming scenes in the Draycott mansion and I got to see the passageways and various parts of the house as set up. The costume director showed me a neat binder of all the costumes and sketches which was great. They even brought in Nancy's sleuth kit from the movie for me to check out. Prop assistants showed off some of the neat props around the set.

I took lemon bars I'd made from scratch to the set the first day I was there and presented them to Andy in a tin. I also took my script and had Andy, Emma, and her father Carson aka Tate Donovan sign it:

Some examples of what Andy asked me were about Nancy's roadster and other things about Nancy's world in the books. He was a fan of classic Nancy Drew (not the modern stuff) by the way. He asked me about spookier Nancy Drew books and ones that he should definitely read from the classics and I pointed him to Hidden Staircase, Old Attic and ones like that with the spooky houses and passageways.

After receiving the final script version, I discovered I'd written to Andy on the 13th of January 2006, just 2 weeks before filming was to begin and attached a Word doc of some thoughts and suggestions. I kept a copy of that and perused it. I pointed out the following things:

1. Nancy's In School: older script vs. newer script

I noted that my biggest issue with the script was that Nancy was still in school. In a previous script version she appeared to be more undercover at the school.

2. Corky's Age/Crush on Nancy

I noted that if Nancy was 18 and Corky was around 14 to be in HS, it was strange that in the script his age was 11 and the age issue was odd. They ended up working that out I guess--Nancy was 16 too in the final version.

3. Nancy's politeness

I made note that even book Nancy wouldn't have shaken the hands of the thugs at the beginning though it was somewhat minor of a critique.

4. Georgie

They had George as Georgie and I said no--he made that change.

5. Chief McGinnis

I was happy with his portrayal though it was brief.

6. River Heights Does Have an Airport

7. Bess and George

I noted that I missed that they weren't a larger part of the mystery and suggested that a sequel should feature them more.

I also made some comments on the script revisions from previous scripts. I noted that Leshing being a suspect in the new script was a welcome addition. I also pointed out that he worked in a lot of classic Nancy Drew elements--sleuthing in the old spooky mansion, flashlight and sleuthing tools, villains and their foibles to get her off the case including a phone threat and stealing stuff from her room. If you're a fan of classic Nancy Drew it was pretty hard not to miss those kinds of things!

While on the set I managed to finagle one of these that I saw on a lot of the director style chairs:

It was hard to visualize the script at times and how it would translate to film and be acted and I don't think when I read the script that the "mean girls" concept translated as strongly as much as it did in the filming. I didn't pick up on it as strongly though it was there and the fish out of water part was there. I did note that Nancy was never a fish out of water and was always one of the popular girls and wore the latest fashions.

The montage at the beginning of the film with the books featured mostly books from collector David Farah and myself. I sent off tons of boxes of books to Warner Brothers of books 1-22 (they only had legal rights to film covering those books) and they also had me send some of my Mildred Wirt Benson books and series--like Penny Parker--to use because they liked the looks and colors of a lot of those spines. That was a huge undertaking.

My other consulting job was working with legal briefly to go through the script and check it for situations and plots that occurred in books outside of classic Nancy Drew books 1-22 as they wanted to avoid having to deal with those kinds of legal issues/licensing. I ended up getting credit in the credits after some wrangling and it was a thrill to see it on the big screen:

The Nancy Drew Sleuths had our 2007 annual Nancy Drew convention out in Pasadena that June during the week that the movie premiered in theaters and that was so much fun. We toured Warner Brothers, saw costumes from the Nancy Drew movie, received copies of the newspaper from the movie, held various events and went and saw the movie together in the theater. The previous weekend I'd flown out to Hollywood for the Grauman's Chinese Theater premier of the movie and had a lot of fun at that debut and the after party.

I had high hopes for it but there were some issues and roadblocks--like FICKLE fans and you know who you are ;-) If you want to see movies made, you kind of have to support the endeavors... Please don't anyone take that the wrong way, but you have to be able to step out of the box and look at all sides. As I tell most companies now, they are never going to please all Nancy Drew fans--there's always going to be the I love anything Nancy Drew crowd and then the naysayer Nancy Drew is only like this and nothing else crowd. Thankfully though, I think most of us probably fall into the reasonable middle of those extremes kind of like Nancy fell in the middle between Bess and George, though we still have our moments!

However, that being said, what tends to please most fans, is sticking to the classic formula of Nancy Drew--it apparently is pretty tried and true as it's still a great seller on paper with sales of classic Nancy Drew holding steady over the years while other departures and modern incarnations have gone by the wayside. When you turn Nancy Drew into something that people don't recognize or even like that much, you've lost your base. And it's the base of any kind of popular character that will always turn out and support something--most of the time. So you don't want to alienate that base!

I think when the trailers hit the theaters and TV sets around the country, people saw one main theme played up--Mean Girls. It was the Hollywood girls vs. Nancy who looked less capable than her book self. The mystery aspect of the book--which is the main part actually--was way underplayed and I think that immediately turned off the fickle crowd and made those of us to try to keep an open mind question whether it was worth the price of the ticket. I immediately contacted marketing at WB and made a lot of points about how the fan base wasn't going to like it--and they needed to target that base with a more mysterious trailer based on the mystery in the movie. But I think the damage was probably done at that point.

Woulda Coulda Shoulda. I can rattle off a list of things that I think they could have done better and should have done, but we can't change that now. OK, I'll rattle off a brief list ;) Nancy should have looked a bit older, been 18, been sleuthing with Bess and George, and not being a fish out of water--she should have been the bold intelligent girl we know her to be without all that mean girls stuff--it should have at least been toned down. Hannah should have been less ethnic--she didn't come across that way in the books. Nancy's perfection shouldn't have been parodied so much although it was funny to see her besting all the girls at the high school at every task she did. Hollywood though does take creative license with things. I think in the case of something like this though, it's better to not depart too far from the character and what makes the character so popular in the books.

I think too they were trying to appeal to today's tween and teens who were a target audience--many of whom weren't that familiar with Nancy Drew. It is sadly very hit and miss anymore with young Nancy Drew readers--some read them and some don't. Back in the day, just about everyone read Nancy! So they wanted to play up that typical mean girls/tween movie stereotypical plot that tends to play well with the tween set. But even then, that didn't attract those girls in droves either. The mystery for some of these kids may have well been, who the heck is Nancy Drew?! The addition of Corky--the wise cracking side kick--was an attempt to get boys to see the movie and bring in that crowd. So, we had a mismatch of targeted audiences. But in every endeavor like this, the base is what anchors any project and without them, it's a lost cause. Some of the base was clearly missing from the support of this movie. There was really nothing I could do about that, and it was frustrating.

But even with all that, the movie was a cute movie, the house was nice and spooky and all those classic elements of classic Nancy Drew were there, so they got some of it right. The costumes were clever as well. I enjoyed the convertible she drove--the Nash--and got to see one of them on the set which was neat. People may not think about it, but a lot of hard work and effort was put forth on this movie. It's unfortunate that some things didn't resonate well and that other things we're not focused on more that would have satisfied fans more.

Bottom Line: I'd love to work on another movie and I think I could do a better job this time of trying to convey what Nancy Drew fans want and how not to alienate that base--I think in this aspect, I was underused, though I did warn them and try to convey what fans want. For anyone wishing to do a project on Nancy Drew or a product, the first thing to do is not overlook the fan base, they are far more powerful in the purse than many seem to give them credit for!



Nancy Lauzon said...

Such an exciting opportunity, good for you! And so true, about sticking to the basics. Hollywood doesn't always get it right, as everyone knows!


Lea said...

Of course there's no way of knowing whether the movie would have been less or more popular/successful if the producers had kept more in line with classic Nancy. My daughter and her friends were the target age of 12/13 at the time of the movie and they all unanimously liked it. Part of the problem is that Hollywood doesn't really do much for that market and when something does register with them, it doesn't make a big splash.

And I disagree with you about Hannah - I thought her characterization was one of the best details in the movie! Would like to have seen more!

Jenn said...

@Lea - the reason I feel like a more classic Nancy portrayal would have done better is because of the massive complaints I saw before and following the movie--from reviewers to actual fans and comments I received in e-mails and saw online in message boards including our group and even comments today from some Sleuth members who haven't even seen it even 6 1/2 years later b/c it wasn't their Nancy.

I had quite a few comments after the trailer was released that it looked like it was some silly tween movie about mean girls and didn't look like anything to do with mystery. So that's where I base those suggestions in my posting. With the box office turnout being so low, I think they missed the mark with their base--another thing I didn't mention in my posting, was that they didn't really market to us fans--young and older. I think they just assumed we'd turn out because it was Nancy Drew and that didn't exactly happen.

I heard from some older fans who said it looked more like a childish kids' movie and less sophisticated than Nancy always was in the books, so they had no interest. The marketing to the tween girls was huge--there were ads and interviews in all the teen mags, in some clothing catalogs, promotions with malls and fashion stores like Claire's, slumber party giveaways, web contests and stuff in the AOL Kids area--so they did a great job in marketing to the kids. Where was the marketing for anyone else? There wasn't really anything. I think they needed more of a balance in that area along with highlight the mystery aspect of the movie to fans--and they missed it.

As for Hannah--she was delightful but she was never that way in the books so to speak. But her portrayal was the lesser of the other "evils" and probably a very minor critique.


Troi kett said...

I'd love to see another movie with a definitely older Nancy! And more George & Bess. I think all the complaints you listed were the ones I had.
Emma seemed like such a baby compared to the Nancy in my mind. But, overall I enjoyed it. Definitely in my collection.

Troi Hackett

Rachelle21 said...

My husband and I went to see the movie together. We both enjoyed the movie. It was advertised for younger viewers.

I understand the trill of seeing your name on movie credits as I have one on Gale Largey's movie on the Austin Dam.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing the details of your consulting wok! It's fascinating to read about, and must have been so excited.
I may be in the minority that I actually enjoyed the movie as a fan. It didn't blow my socks off, but I didn't expect it to. I would *love* to see them make a sequel, especially if they still used Emma, but I have a feeling that wouldn't happen.

I also loved the costumes used for Nancy in the movie, especially the main yellow/purple combo. I would have liked to have seen one of the promotions at the mall.


Logansport Library Children's Department said...

We showed the movie at our library, and that's when I first saw it. I really loved it! I do think it's too bad that they haven't made another one with Emma Roberts. You're right; it's probably too late now.

Vicki said...

Jenn, it was such fun seeing your name in the credits. I think our group gave the other movie-goers a smile when we all applauded with pride as your name appeared on the screen!

Jan said...

Reading this makes me realize I need to watch it again! I think I liked this movie far and away better than any other recent Nancy Drew in film - although the Maggie Lawson was good, but I didn't like the plots as well.
How lucky to have been able to consult on it!
Jan Rader

LuAnn Sgrecci O'Connell said...

While the movie departed in many ways from classic Nancy, as you point out, I liked it. I find if I look at these movies from books as a separate entities and not expect them to be mirror the books, as in the first two Anne of Green Gables productions from Kevin Sullivan, I enjoy them on their own.

You make a good point that if we don't support these movies, whether we agree with their portrayal or not, they won't make more. The mystery and spooky elements were well done, Nancy's fashions were great, she was confident and intelligent, and like most I could have done without corky, the mean girls and her parodied perfectionism & not fitting in. And in general, the movie was very well done. My kids all like it; we were looking forward to a sequel.

Shell in the City said...

Wow..thanks for sharing the "behind the scenes" much work went into the movie. My mom and I enjoyed the movie. As you stated, not every ND fan will love the movie, but I thought it was cute and enjoyed it. Yes, I did purchase the DVD and look forward to showing it to my niece once she is older. Great job on the consulting. I would love to see another ND movie made!!

MK said...

I liked the mystery part--it was much better and more absorbing than I had expected. I wish they had focussed on that more, and less on silliness (i.e. Corky, making fun of a goody-two-shoes...). I think children and parents like a good, child-appropriate mystery. I just read the user comments on IMDb and there were many, many positive comments.