From time to time, focus points within the culture pop up that give you a picture of the public mind. At this time, a single actor has become that focal point, and studios would do well to pay attention to what’s happening to him.
You might have heard his name recently. Henry Cavill is like many leading men. He’s handsome and talented, and anything he appears in automatically attracts viewers. However, unlike most leading men, his fanbase consists of both typical and atypical elements for someone like him. While he does have the love of moviegoers, women, and the respect of many a man, he also has a massive following in the nerd and geek communities.
This is because Cavill is, himself, a rabid geek and an unabashed one at that.
It’s this geeky quality that led Cavill to pursue various roles that should have made studios a lot of money. All they had to do was listen to Cavill. However, that’s not what they did. They ignored him, and now things are crumbling around them.
Netflix’s “The Witcher,” in particular, is one lesson that studios could learn a hard lesson from because it represents studios ignoring the geeks on a singular level. Cavill is a man who pushed for Netflix to take on “The Witcher” and he even succeeded in landing the role as the series protagonist “Geralt of Rivia.”
The Witcher is a well-known property. It started as a successful book series that was adapted to successful games. Cavill was a no-brainer for the role of Geralt, not just because he looked and acted the part flawlessly, but because he was a massive fan of both the games and the source material.
Cavill was more excited than anyone that this series was being made and said he’d stick it out with the show for seasons on end and would only depart if they didn’t respect the source material and change the show for their own purposes.
And true to form, Netflix hired showrunners that did exactly what Cavill warned again. Believable rumors began circulating that Cavill was unhappy with the show. It later came out that Cavill was oftentimes fighting to maintain various elements of the story. It was also revealed that the showrunners would laugh at, or show disdain for, the source material that Cavill loved so much. Soon enough, he announced he was exiting the role as Geralt and handing it to Liam Hemsworth. I can only imagine the heartbreak Cavill suffered over this, but it was the right move…according to both his fans and fans of “The Witcher.”
Cavill is one of the few actors who he and his fans can say truly understand each other. He’s one of them and it shows.
Watch as a journalist tries to bait Henry Cavill into denouncing "toxic fandoms" and Cavill doesn't take it. Says fans aren't "toxic" for not liking changes to the source material, they're just passionate about it.
A great response to a leading, divisive question. pic.twitter.com/B7jbj9OtW8
— Brandon Morse (@TheBrandonMorse) December 13, 2019
They would much rather not see Cavill go down with a ship that deserves to sink despite his best attempt at keeping it afloat. And sinking it is. It’s unlikely that Netflix’s series will survive without Cavill or his influence. In fact, you can see it happening now as their series offshoot “The Witcher: Blood Origin,” fails with both the audiences and critics. It’s a modernized, politicized, and ultimately boring addition to the Witcherverse that no fan seems to be buying.
One can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Netflix hadn’t taken Cavill and his expertise for granted, but then again, that’s the same story happening with studios across the culture.
It’s a tale that’s seen being repeated over and over again. Studios buy a property that has a very deep fanbase of geeks, the studio ignores the geeks in favor of injecting modernity, and the property begins to lose value. It happened to Disney’s feminizing of Star Wars, it happened to Amazon’s bastardization of Lord of the Rings, and it happened to “The Witcher.”
The secret to making “The Witcher” live-action adaptation was being freely told by Cavill, a true fan of the property, but he was ignored. All Netflix had to do was listen to the one true fan in the room and they would have been sitting on a successful series that people would have subscribed to the streaming service singularly for. Instead, they ignored the fan, turning into yet another fount of virtue-signaling toxicity from hyper-political showrunners that drives fans away.
And herein lies the lesson.
The fans of a property — and I mean the true fanbase that followed it around from the beginning — contain that property’s heart and soul. They were in love with the settings, characters, and plotlines in their purest form. They helped build the property to the fame it achieved.
You ignore and deride fans of a story you’re trying to work with at your own peril. Not hearing them out and ignoring their criticisms is a surefire way to get it all wrong. The fans truly get the magic of the thing and understand why it works. Consulting and working with them will more than likely bring you success. Spurning and insulting them will deprive you of the knowledge you needed to make it work and eliminate the base that would have supported the work in the first place.
Fans are, quite bizarrely, an untapped resource that could unlock great success for any studio looking to work with a property. I consider Netflix’s failure with “The Witcher” greater even than Amazon’s failure with the Lord of the Rings because Netflix had the key to success right there in Cavill.
Yet he and the fans were ignored, and now “The Witcher” is one more property that people don’t want to touch…at least from Netflix.
Cavill is now set to work on producing a “Warhammer 40,000” series for Amazon. If Amazon is wise, they’ll let the fan do what he wants. If they do, then they can sit back and count the cash as fans flock to its streaming service to watch Cavill do his thing, and even create new fans in the process.