Scarlett Johansson is one of Hollywood's biggest draws and continues to be a big factor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That said, she's also suffered one of her biggest disappointments this year in Ghost in the Shell. That means it's the perfect time to get some perspective, and director Jon Favreau is the perfect person to talk to about it.
Favreau is coming off of his monumentally successful The Jungle Book for Disney, a film that grossed over a billion dollars at the box office. Thing is, like any director, he's experienced his share of box office duds. At the Tribeca Talks panel (via Deadline), Johannson and Favreau got together to talk about dealing with the ups and downs. "You're more pragmatic than me, your expectations are managed and you're smart that way," Favreau told Johansson. "I'm not smart that way. I'm completely flummoxed when it's not exactly what I hoped it would be."
"With filmmaking, you have to be underwater with this thing: You're pitching it, then making it, then promoting," said Favreau. "By the time it comes out, you've gone full speed down a one-way track." This is especially the case for a director, who's vision is seen throughout the project. That makes the duds hit even harder. "With Cowboys & Aliens, I was really bummed out." The project was hotly anticipated but only grossed $173 million against a $163 million budget. He dealt with it the best way he could, which was by going to the pool with his kids "A lot". "By the end of the summer, I had a huge tan."
"You don't learn from your successes, you learn from your failures. [Success] gives you false positives on what you know. You need a healthy amount of failure; it's like pruning roses. I don't think I would have developed if I didn't have Zathura, Cowboys & Aliens and even Rudy, the first film I acted in. Everyone involved in making that movie was so depressed, it was like a good bucket of cold water." You'll need those failures to deliver a home run at the box office, because as Favreau says, "If you can't make a profit, you don't get opportunities."
Johansson asked Favreau about Swingers, the film that launched his career. Johansson remembers the industry of the nineties, saying "It was a different world then. I was a kid doing Manny & Lo and there was real room for independent film to exist as independent film."
"It was a different ecosystem. The big studios were buying independents" said Favreau. "A lot of money was being infused because if an independent film took off, it would cost only $5M and they could make $100M. Independent films would come out and dominate, people were placing bets and with video they knew they could make money. As video went away, people stopped taking chances. But with streaming, there's an infusion of financing and they're allowing these voices to come back,"
The film was shown in industry screenings (thanks to the work of his then agent Cynthia Shelton and director Doug Liman), and ultimately Miramax bought the rights. "That worked!" beamed Johansson. Harvel Weinstein was at the helm of Miramax at the time, with Favreau adding "Harvey was ultimately happy because there was a lot of video revenue." That made up for the film's low box office output. "There are wins and losses," said Favreau. "The path to success is being able to ride them and not be defined by one or the other."