Magazine article Variety

Movie Maven Wields Words

Magazine article Variety

Movie Maven Wields Words

Article excerpt

BOOK WHISPERER

Fox 2000 chief Elizabeth Gabler's latest challenge: stealing audience attention for The Book Thief'

In Markus Zusak's bestseller "The Book Thief," a young orphaned girl in Nazi Germany is advised to put pen to paper as a means of liberation and empowerment.

While the story's lesson illustrates the power of the written word, the sentiment behind it defines the philosophy of one of Hollywood's most successful executives, Elizabeth Gabler, president of Fox 2000.

"I believe in the power of writing and telling stories," Gabler tells Variety.

In an era when the Hollywood majors are obsessed with producing prequels, sequels and comicbook adaptations, Gabler has, for the past 14 years, run the only studio division that's largely devoted to bringing popular and often challenging literary properties such as "Life of Pi," "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Water for Elephants" to the bigscreen.

"The Book Thief," which opened Nov. 8 in limited release, and will expand its run in the coming weeks, is Gabler's latest test.

The 57-year-old executive, known for her sophisticated taste in movie material as well as her close relationships with writers, filmmakers and talent, is a tireless advocate of risky projects.

Defying the naysayers - even those among the brass at her unit's parent company, 20th Century Fox - who deemed Yann Martel's 2001 novel "Life of Pi" unfilmable, Gabler championed the project until she found the right director, Ang Lee, and then convinced her bosses to bless a $120 million screen version of the bestselling book. The movie, about a young man stranded in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, became a critical and commercial bonanza for Fox 2000, grossing $611.8 million worldwide and winning four Academy Awards, including best director for Lee.

"The old throwaway phrase has been, 'You should threaten to burn our car if we don't make your movie,'" says 20th Century Fox chief Jim Gianopulos. "Elizabeth is far too elegant and well mannered a person to actually do it, but we never wanted to take the chance (that she would). That's the kind of passion she exemplifies."

Gianopulos says Gabler displayed that kind of zeal and tenacity not only for "Pi" but for "The Book Thief," an equally tough sell that features a story narrated by Death and told from the perspective of a child (played by newcomer Sophie Nelisse), who finds hope for herself and her family by reading banned literature during World War II.

"I didn't think necessarily that the film would ever be made," admits the book's author Zusak, who has been touring with the cast and crew to promote the film. "I thought it would sink without a trace."

Gabler, a Long Beach, Calif., native whose mother was an elementary school teacher, and who learned to read when she was 3, says she had an immediate emotional reaction to "The Book Thief" when producer Karen Rosenfelt first brought her the novel.

"Of course, when I read it, there were so many things that I found would be equally exciting for a film project," says Gabler, an avid equestrian who now lives in Santa Barbara and divides her work week between her home office and the Fox lot in Century City. "But having a young daughter, I immediately felt for this young girl."

Zusak's novel became a hit among young adults when it was published in 2005, landing on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 230 weeks. "We realized the readership was catching on in a way we had never seen before," Gabler says.

The film marks the first platform release for Fox 2000, averaging a solid $26,251 per screen over the Nov. 8-10 weekend from four locations. …

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