NYTimes.com Article, By RICK LYMAN:
'Greek Wedding' Courts a Prince Named Oscar
LOS ANGELES, Nov. 27 - Perhaps it was inevitable. "My Big
Fat Greek Wedding," the
$5 million independent film
phenomenon that no one in Hollywood wanted to make yet
everyone is now trying to duplicate, is being widely and
seriously discussed as a significant player in the
forthcoming Academy Awards race.
"It's very heady,"
said Nia Vardalos, that movie's star and
screenwriter. "I mean, just to think that `My Big Fat Greek
Wedding' is being mentioned in conjunction with the Academy
Awards. But I'm telling you right now, if I get nominated,
I am going to run out and buy a dress so fast there are
going to be burn marks down the middle of my driveway."
The movie, about an awkward Greek-American waitress who
wins the professor of her dreams despite the best
intentions of her ostentatiously wacky family, opened in
April with the expectation that it might just possibly make
as much as $20 million at the box office.
"But then, we passed $20 million and thought, well, can it
do $50 million?" said Gary Goetzman, one of the film's
producers. It could. It did.
Reviews ranged from generous
to lukewarm. It didn't matter.
Three months ago $100 million passed like a road sign on
the interstate. Expensive major movies opened, packed
theaters and rapidly disappeared from memory, while "My Big
Fat Greek Wedding" just kept plowing ahead. Could it make
it to $200 million? It did, just last week, the film's 32nd
week in release, when it was in sixth place.
"Greek Wedding" has been on the Top 10 list for box-office
sales for 19 weeks, including the last 18. "Titanic,"
Hollywood's all-time box-office champ, was in the Top 10
for 26 consecutive weeks, an unparalleled stretch. "The
fact that we're even comparing `Titanic' to `Greek Wedding'
shows you how astonishing this film's box-office
performance has been," said Paul Dergarabedian, president
of Exhibitor Relations, which monitors box-office revenue.
Not only has "Greek Wedding" become the biggest
independent film in history (surpassing the $140.5 million
grossed by "The Blair Witch Project" in 1999), but it has
become the most financially successful romantic comedy
(beating the $178.4 million grossed by "Pretty Woman" in
1990, although ticket prices were much lower then).
"It's the gift that keeps on giving," said Rita Wilson, who
got the ball rolling by dragging her husband, Tom Hanks, to
a performance of Ms. Vardalos's stand-up comedy act, and
then suggesting that he help her produce a movie from it.
Going into the holiday season, the film's producers hope
its family-oriented story will continue to attract
audiences, but pragmatically, they expect the coming
onslaught of big-budget blockbusters will finally squeeze
it from the Top 10 list.
Making money is one thing. Winning Oscars is something
else. When a movie has gripped the affection of audiences
as firmly as this one has, though, can the 5,600 or so
voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and
Sciences possibly ignore it?
The Academy Awards ceremony is scheduled for March 23, and
almost all the early prognosticators have mentioned "Greek
Wedding" as a contender, most likely for Ms. Vardalos's
screenplay or for one or more of the performances.
The movie's producers have hired consultants to help them
run an Academy Award campaign and this week "For Your Big
Fat Consideration" advertisements began appearing in the
Hollywood trade papers.
"We're not really running a big, pushy campaign," Ms.
Wilson said. "But if you don't at least put an ad in the
trade papers, you're going to look like, what's their
Mr. Goetzman, too, said that the producers wanted to give
the movie, and especially Ms. Vardalos, a full shot at
year-end honors. But they are leery of pushing too hard.
"Romantic comedies, as you know, don't tend to do all that
well in the Oscars," Mr. Goetzman said. "So I think we'd
really have to build up a strong head of steam in some of
the earlier awards to get a best-picture nomination. But
for screenplay or some other category? Who knows? We'd
really like to make it happen for Nia."
The Hollywood Reporter this week named "Greek Wedding" one
of the most likely nominees for a Golden Globe for best
comedy or musical, alongside Reese Witherspoon's "Sweet
Home Alabama"; Eminem's "8 Mile"; the forthcoming
"Chicago," with Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones,
based on the Broadway musical; and "Analyze That," with
Robert De Niro.
"This was a movie that a lot of people turned down and
didn't want to have anything to do with," Ms. Wilson said.
"So there is enormous validation just in the success of the
film. But to even be mentioned as something that would be
considered in the running for the Oscars, that's just
great. It's surreal, really."
After Ms. Wilson convinced her husband - and Mr. Goetzman,
who is Mr. Hanks's partner in Playtone, a film and
television production company - to read Ms. Vardalos's
script, the trio shopped the script around Hollywood. They
found no takers until HBO Films, which has a strong
relationship with Mr. Hanks based on its "From the Earth to
the Moon" and "Band of Brothers" mini-series, agreed that
the film might make a direct-to-cable comedy.
Gold Circle Films, a movie production and financing
company, split the costs with HBO. Playtone was the
production company. Mr. Hanks, Mr. Goetzman and Ms. Wilson
were producers. A cast was assembled, with Ms. Vardalos in
the lead, John Corbett (fresh from a successful run on "Sex
and the City") as her paramour and the television veteran
Michael Constantine as her father.
While this unfolded, there were some growing voices -
particularly that of Paul Brooks, president of Gold Circle
- who felt that the movie should open in theaters.
"Paul was saying he thought it could do $20 million or
more, and he was really pushing for it," said Jonathan
Sehring, president of IFC Entertainment, an independent
film production and distribution company that, like the
Independent Film Channel, is a subsidiary of the
Cablevision Systems Corporation.
HBO gave the go-ahead for a theatrical release. IFC was
hired to distribute the movie.
"On the day the movie opened, I was going in to read for a
voice-over part in a Kraft cheese commercial," Ms. Vardalos
said. "I didn't get it, either. And I really needed it. It
Now there is bounty to spare. Profits are being split in
three, pretty much equal shares among Playtone, HBO and
Gold Circle. And in recognition of the film's unexpected
success, Ms. Vardalos has been granted some additional,
How much money is there to
split? The principals are not
saying, but even assuming a slightly larger-than-average
marketing budget of $40 million to $50 million, there would
be well over $100 million, and perhaps more than $150
million. And that is without the anticipated tens of
millions to come from home video, DVD and other outlets.
After that, there are plans for a half-hour CBS sitcom
based on the film. "CBS has been very patient with us," Ms.
Vardalos said by telephone from Milan, where she was in her
seventh month of traversing the globe to promote the movie.
She even had a audience with Queen Elizabeth. "We all
thought that by now the movie would be finished in theaters
and we could be working on the series. But it never seems
to stop. So it looks like we're still at least six months
away from getting something on the air."
Initial reports that the network was uncomfortable with the
word fat in the title were wrong, Ms. Wilson said. But the
title will change because there can't be a wedding every
week. Ms. Wilson said, the series will be called "My Big
Fat Greek Life" or "My Big Fat Greek Family"; the title is
still being discussed.
Cast members from the movie will return for the sitcom, Ms.
Wilson said, except for Mr. Corbett, who will be starring
in "Lucky," a new comedy series for the FX Channel.
And if they can come up with an idea that is good enough,
Ms. Vardalos and Playtone hope to make a movie sequel.
In the meantime Ms. Vardalos is enjoying being recognized
on the street - "Everyone says the same thing, that it
reminds them of their own family" - and being booked as a
guest on the same top-rated shows that had no interest in
her when the movie first came out.
With all the awards talk, there is even a chance she will
be among the guests on Barbara Walters's annual pre-Oscar
"Before, no one was interested in this nice Greek girl from
Winnipeg," Ms. Vardalos said. "Now, they always ask me
these serious questions. I can tell they're trying to get
me to be emotional. But at this point," she says coolly,
"if I'm going to cry, I'm going to save it for Barbara."