The trilogy 50 Shades of Grey, 50 Shades Darker and 50 Shades Free are a publishing phenomenon, selling over 20 million copies and making their author E.L. James an overnight millionaire. Regardless how you feel about the quality of the writing and the story, I hope she's banking her money, because while all fame is fleeting, this sort of explosive fame fleets fastest.
But that's another topic for another blog.
Universal Pictures spent some serious spondoolix to get the movie rights to the trilogy and just contracted Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti to produce the film thanks to their track record handling complex adaptations like Moneyball and The Social Network.
They're going to have their work cut out for them, and here's why:
1. SPEED. As I said earlier this sort of phenomenon can go from "hot stuff" to "cold fish" literally overnight. The history of popular culture is littered with the shredded remains of similar pop-culture phenoms whom people are now embarrassed to admit they've spent money on.
Universal and the producers have to get the movie out within about a year to strike while the proverbial iron is hot. Wasting the typical 5-10 years on development will make the whole exercise pointless. But speed isn't anything if it isn't exactly what the book's fans are looking for, and that can be hindered by the...
2. RATING. If they're faithful to the book the movie will get an NC-17 rating. If you live in a cave and don't know why, I'll give you a quick summary of the books:
A virginal young woman meets a sexy young billionaire named Christian Grey. After that it's a litany of kinky sex, bondage, domination, and sadomasochism. Here's an ad for the audiobook complete with actual excerpts, and like everything associated with the books is TOTALLY NSFW:
Okay, it's a parody, but apparently the excerpts are real.
To get an R-Rating they're going to have to do some cutting. Actually, they're going to have to do a truckload of cutting to get it to fit into an R-Rating.
Then there's the biggest trap of all, the trap that could make all of their efforts for nothing and that is...
3. MEDIUM. The success of the 50 Shades books is rooted in the fact that are books and not movies. The book's target audience is women who prefer their erotica in text form, so they can let the sexy-times roll around in their imaginations.
Translate erotica onto film, and you run the risk of losing that target audience of women, but of gaining a new audience of men who like their titillation of the visual variety that leave little if anything to the imagination.
Which brings us to the trap.
It's highly unlikely men will flock to theaters to pay to see an R-Rated sex-fest when there's infinite loads of sexually explicit material available for free on the internet in the comfort and privacy of their own homes.
Then there's the water cooler factor. No one wants to chatting about a sex-movie around the water cooler. It's socially awkward. So many would look at the movie and think "Why bother?"
Universal's already spent millions to the film, so they're committed to at least try to do something with it, but the traps that lie in wait for it could make it all for nothing.