Julie Taymor says 'Spider-Man' harmed by Twitter, focus groups

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Image Credit: Amanda Schwab/Startraksphoto.com

Days after the official opening of Broadway’s Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, director Julie Taymor spoke candidly at a conference of theater professionals about the challenges that led her to leave the show in March. According to the New York Times, Taymor pointed a finger at the show’s producers for using focus group testing to tweak the show after a round of scathing early reviews in February. “It’s very scary if people are going more towards that, to have audiences tell you how to make a show,” she told an audience at the national conference of the Theatre Communications Group in L.A. on Saturday. “Shakespeare would have been appalled.”

Taymor also voiced concern over the power of Twitter and other new media outlets to deliver a verdict on a show before it officially opens. Spider-Man was the target of bad buzz for months preceding its opening, as a ballooning $70 million budget and a series of delays and on-stage accidents turned the show into a punching bag for critics and comedians. Although Taymor was replaced by director Philip Wm. McKinley in March, she still attended Spider-Man‘s official premiere last week and was photographed hugging Bono and the Edge of U2, who composed the show’s music and helped re-imagine the musical after Taymor’s departure.

Read more:
‘Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark': The new reviews are in!
Bono and the Edge talk ‘Spider-Man’ troubles
‘Spider-Man’ reboots on Broadway: What did they change?

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  • Jason

    Don’t forget that Cameron’s Titanic was also the victim of bad buzz before it came out. But it did fine, because it was a good film. I agree with Taymor on criticizing the focus groups, but disagree about the dangers of twitter-fueled bad buzz.

    • Nathan

      exactly what I was gonna say, thank God for things like Twitter, Rotten Tomatoes etc for giving us a heads up to what sucks these days, we can save an awful lot of money that way. I myself saved 12 bucks by passing up the lousy Green Lantern movie this weekend, thanks RT :)

    • Ana170

      She doesn’t actually criticize the focus groups. She criticized the producers for using them. Personally, I thought it was a bad idea from the start. Who really wants to hear a superhero sing?

      • somet

        Bono did a crap job, he should take full credit for it.

      • mary q contrary

        I’m with somet that Bono did a HORRIBLE job, but the blame should really extend to almost everyone involved with this turd. Bono should have never been invited to do the music, as he hasn’t written anything decent/relevant in almost a decade (and I’m being generous there). The budget was ballooning out of control for years, and instead of making some budgeting decisions and scaling down the production, it seems as if they just decided to start piling on the spectacle (or trying to) to cover up the mess they had made. Someone should have put the kibosh on this long ago. This is a case of continuing on with a crappy project in the name of saving face. Too much ego and pride went into this flop.

      • Tom

        She is the worst director with the worst concept for a Broadway production ever imagined. Bono should sue the absolute crap out of everyone, and get his hard earned money back from these losers.

    • Ann

      Titanic was awful and was only helped at the box office by tweens who were in love with Dicaprio. The movie won an Oscar simply because it was the biggest money maker of all-time and there was no competition that year.

      • asher

        “Awful” is a bit of a stretch. However, I agree that it wasn’t as great as one might be led to believe based on box-office and awards ceremonies.

      • Ann

        Okay, I agree. “Awful” is a bit of a stretch. But extremely overrated.

      • Joey JoJo Shabadoo

        “Titanic” received 11 bloody Oscars! “Awful”?”Overrated”? “Wasn’t as great as one might be led to believe”? Tweens weren’t responsible for the Academy Awards. And why would Academy voters go with Titanic for Best Picture simply because it was the biggest money maker? Why would that remotely influence them? “Transformers”, or “Pirates of the Caribbean” therefore should have gotten Oscars?Cameron’s “Avatar” was the highest grosser Best Picture nom last year, yet the forgettable “Hurt Locker” got the prize. “Titanic” was an extraordinary achievement in the motion picture arts. If the story and subject matter are not to your “taste”, so be it. But to minimize the quality of the production is absurd.

      • Alyssa

        ^^^dude money and awards dont always equal something. Plus the Academy board has become so predictable. I think people saw Avatar out of curiosity.

    • Theatre Critic to the Gods

      “Titanic” was just a rip-off of “A Night To Remember”. “Titanic” had a big box office because of all the little girls who went to see it 7 or 8 times.

      • Joey JoJo Shabadoo

        How did “Titanic” rip-off “A Night To Remember”? I’ve watched “Night” several times over the years. It’s damn good, but any depiction of Titanic will have the same elements throughout it right? James Cameron would certainly have referred to Walter Lord’s book “A Night To Remember” for factual information when writing the screenplay, but that’s it.

      • Tom

        I could actually watch the Titanic if I was forced to watch it again. Spiderman? I would probably take a nap.

  • TrueT

    Taymor, you are no Shakespeare.

    • shakespeare

      thank you. instead of blaming producers, she should focus letting the budget get to a zillion dollars.

    • Steve

      Shakespeare? Heck, she’s not even a Stan Lee!

    • Josh

      Exactly. And something tells me she’d love Twitter if the buzz had been good for the show.

      • bono’s soul

        i shouldn’t say this, but you’re probably right.

      • Tom

        This show is a fraud. Bono was robbed of his investment money. He would have been better off giving it to the homeless or some other charity case. If I was Bono I would sue the hell out of them.

  • ajmalzx

    Yeah when you’re funding a multi million dollar production based on a COMIC BOOK which got ZERO appeal to normal theater goers, you have to rely on your focus groups and early reviews.

    In the end, it all depends on how many tickets you can sell, if you cant even fill up half the theater even after 2 weeks of showing, dont matter if you retool the show or not, it’s going to get canned.

  • me

    Would Shakespeare have been appalled? He was writing “for the people” and probably didn’t see himself as an “artiste.” In his day, I doubt his work was considered as high faluting as it is now.

    • Canadian

      Please read a biography of Shakespeare.

      • Tom

        Shakespeare was fond of using the word DUH between every line. I can see the correlation you guys are making here.

    • Theatre Critic to the Gods

      Actually, Shakespeare was just an actor-producer-writer churning out scripts with a lot of collaborators (that’s why there’s confusion as to who actually wrote his plays). The theatre-going audience in London wasn’t that large so they had to change plays about every 9 days. And they spoke a lot faster, “Hamlet” was done in about 90 minutes, whereas today they’ll drag it out pretentiously for 4 hours. Shakespeare didn’t become “reknowned” until about 100 years after his death.

    • shakespeare

      While I was not revered in my own time, I was very successful and well respected. And no, I would not have been appalled by focus groups. Wish we had those back then… we relied on gossip. I’m a businessman, folks. It’s all about the $bling$.

  • Alyssa

    Personally I think the idea of a Spiderman musical is stupid. Too much swinging around and that’s about it. Thats why Disney’s Tarzan didnt last long. One guy swinging in the air with a love interest. Focus Groups, Twitter and Critics only have so much impact. Even if Its a show with mixed reviews people will go. For instance ” Disneys The Little Mermaid” had mixed reviews(about 50/50) but I personally think it was beautiful and well done and the music was catchy. 90% of the audience liked Mermaid too. I saw Taymors Lion King in Vegas-it was good and artsy with the puppet things, but a little showy for my taste, I prefer Beauty and Beast and Mermaid- a part of that is also because I prefer those movies over The Lion King movie.

  • Ricky

    You know, when you proceed to spend 70 million dollars in a climate like theater that is overflowing with talent who can’t projects off the ground, then, yes, you are going to face more scrutiny and skepticism than others and more than may even be fair. If you don’t want that kind of notoriety, why choose a project with so many pop culture reverberations? Spiderman is not exactly flying under the radar. And if you decide to gamble and play on such a big scale, you better deliver or you’ll be slaughtered for such folly and hubris. Taymor is a great talent, but she is borderline delusional to think this could have ended up any other way.

  • Chris

    A Spider-Man musical is not a bad idea, but if you’re going to do it, you need someone who knows the material to do it right. Taymor added stupid concepts to the show because she has no clue what Spider-Man is about. But the producers should be held accountable for cutting corners on safety. Accidents happen, but when they continue to happen, it usually means the correct precautions weren’t taken to begin with.

  • Marcy Runkle

    The reason that Spiderman suffered from bad buzz is that it was really, really bad. That had nothing to do with the technical mishaps or the budget or behind-the-scenes drama. I went into it (the early version) HOPING that all of the buzz would be wrong – I went in with a 100% open mind, hoping to love it. I was horrified that a show could actually be that terrible! Sorry, Julie… I guess I see her point, but in this instance it’s badly-written music and a nonexistent book that killed the show, not gossip.

  • bvfg

    Maybe it sucks because it’s a musical about Spider Man.

  • Alaina

    Shakespeare used focus groups in a way. It was called the audience. That’s in part why there are so many different versions of Shakespeare’s plays. If something didn’t work with the audience, particularly the groundlings who had a habit of yelling at the actors and throwing things, then that bit would be likely removed in future performances. Nothing was set in stone. Pleasing the audience is how a play makes money. Let’s not forget that art is a business and really always has been.

    • Myma

      Yeah “Shakespeare would be appalled”, hah, Shakespeare would have had potatoes and turnips thrown at the actors on the stage.

  • DFSF

    Considering her greatest success, The Lion King, had a script she didn’t write, maybe she should try laying blame a little closer to home. Like with the script. And the music. And the Las Vegas concept trying to pass itself off as a Broadway musical.

    • Theatre Critic to the Gods

      I think you summed it all up. Julie Taymor was certainly in over her head–I bet she didn’t even read comic books when she was growing up (95% of comic book readers are male) so the musical obviously should’ve been directed by a male. Women are lousy directors, they turn out dreck in my experience of viewing hundreds of plays. My question is: why throw $70 million at this turkey? There must be tax-write-offs involved or something.

    • Alyssa

      Well like I said above- I think both The Lion King musical and movie are IDK what the word is. OVEREXPOSED. There are other Disney musicals that were just as good. Because it won over critics and Tony awards means nothing to me. I saw the show at Mandalay Bay in Veagas. Like I said it was good, but nothing ” OMG- I HAVE NEVER SEEN THAT BEFORE”. I’m more looking forward to Mermaid when I see it on tour. I didnt say I hate Lion King movie or musical I just said the praise for both is overblown.

      • Alyssa

        *Vegas, OVERRATED thats the word I was looking for. Slipped my mind. Taymor is like the James Cameron of Theater. Showy and Pretty with alot of gimmicks, but doesn’t always mean all other shows need to go un-noticed.-OR EVERYTHING needs to be compared to it. Everything in theater ” Its no Lion King or Wicked”. Everything in movies ” Its no Titanic or Avatar”. Give it a rest.

  • Theatre Critic to the Gods

    I’ve been thinking: where did the money all go? I could’ve opened the show for $20,000. Even at Equity Scale it wouldn’t be $70,000,000!!!

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