LOS ANGELES — “Glee,” Fox’s breakout musical series about a group of misfit high-schoolers, has become a sensation in its two years on the air. It has earned an army of hard-core fans who identify themselves as “Gleeks” and charted more Billboard Hot 100 hits than any recording artist in history — including Elvis.
Now, the show’s creative team is attempting to bring its magic to the multiplex with a new 3-D concert film opening Friday. Directed by Kevin Tancharoen and culled from two Izod Center shows in East Rutherford, N.J., “Glee: The 3D Concert Movie” features series regulars such as Lea Michele, Chris Colfer and Cory Monteith, and is aimed to appeal to fans with its collection of musical numbers and dressing-room interviews.
The question, even for a movie aimed at ardent fans, is whether the concert film can draw enough people in the “Glee” club to justify the production. So far, tracking has not been strong for the film, prompting some industry observers to forecast that the movie will gross only about $10 million upon its release this weekend, a paltry number for a wide-release movie in 3-D.
From the outset, the project had some hurdles to overcome. Few network series have been able to transition successfully to the big screen, particularly during a show’s regular run (though 2007′s “The Simpsons Movie” was a notable exception to that rule).
Furthermore, concert movies have a mixed track record at the box office — the Jonas Brothers’ 3-D movie underperformed two years ago, though February’s Justin Bieber 3-D concert film, “Never Say Never,” earned upward of $73 million during its theatrical run.
Although ratings are solid for the show in its Tuesday night slot with an average of about 10 million people tuning in this past season, that’s no guarantee that an audience is willing to pay 3-D ticket prices for a film composed largely of set pieces that viewers can see for free every week. (The movie includes performances of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” and songs from artists including Britney Spears, Katy Perry and even Barbra Streisand.)
Show runner Ryan Murphy and 20th Century Fox together decided that a movie was a sensible way to extend the “Glee” brand in the wake of the hit albums and concert tour.
“There were parts of the country we couldn’t hit and parts of the world we couldn’t hit, and this was an opportunity to make sure those people could also see it,” said Dana Walden, co-chair of 20th Century Fox Television, which produces the show and was the creative force behind the movie, which is being released by its sister Fox film studio.
This year’s tour, with considerably more dates than a similar tour in 2010, began in May in Las Vegas and played about two dozen North American dates, including May 28 at the Staples Center, before winding up on June 18 in Long Island, N.Y. It then played a number of shows in the U.K.
Throughout those performances, Murphy worked with director Tancharoen, who is not affiliated with the series, to shoot the performances and backstage material in 3-D. The tour was choreographed by Zachary Woodlee, who does work on the show, in an attempt to maintain some continuity.
Interspersed between these musical numbers are cutaway interviews with “Gleeks” who talk about their favorite characters and how the show has inspired them to overcome life’s challenges.
They include a young woman with Asperger’s syndrome who relates to Heather Morris’ outspoken Brittany and a bevy of fans that worship Finn, a jock played by Monteith.
The goal of the movie, say the filmmakers, was to give fans a feeling of what it’s like to be in an arena.
“We’ve all seen the concert film where you see how hard it is to be on the road, and we didn’t want to do that,” Tancharoen said. “We just wanted to give you the feeling of sitting in the crowd at a live show.”
Fox is aware that some can see the film as a cash grab, but Walden says the decision to cut a concert film was driven by creative reasons and fan interest.
“We turn down an enormous number of licensing opportunities for ‘Glee,’ a lot more than we pursue,” Walden said. “Together with Ryan, we decide which opportunities feel original and innovative. And we felt this was — it was an opportunity to do something distinctive.”
Still, the release comes at an interesting time in the series’ creative life. Several online tabloids reported that Monteith, Colfer and Michele, who will be high school seniors this season, learned they wouldn’t return to the show after this season from a Hollywood Reporter interview with Murphy.
Murphy fired back in an interview in another entertainment outlet that he was flummoxed by their reaction because he had discussed a spinoff show with them. He and Walden say that show is on hold for now, though Walden says that some of the graduating cast members could come back in a nonstudent guise.
Wary of the perception of backstage drama, Fox is trying to maintain a tight hand on press and keep public blow-ups to a minimum. It declined to make Murphy or any of the actors available for this story.
Walden downplayed the actor controversy. “Ryan has an excellent relationship with his cast,” she said. “The challenge with ‘Glee’ is that the fan base is so excited that every word that comes out of anyone’s mouth is scrutinized to the highest level.”
She added that despite the dormant state of the second series — or even the box-office performance of “Glee 3-D” — she believed there would be room for spinoffs on television and on other platforms.
“I’m excited about the future of the brand,” she said. “I think we’ve only begun to scratch the surface.”