Paramount‘s ramping up their World War Z campaign with less than a month to go until the costly zombie actioner opens on June 21. (Read Mike Fleming on the troubled shoot, escalating budget, and Paramount’s campaign to spin gold from bad press here.) Check …
UPDATE: Summer 2013 has many budget busting blockbusters. But also problems that have plagued some during pre-production, filming, and post-production. Not since John Carter and Battleship has a big-budget movie received more advance negative press for its production woes than World War Z, the Marc Forster-directed adaptation of the Max Brooks zombie-apocalypse novel that stars and is produced by Brad Pitt. I was shown the movie, but not in its 3D format, weeks before its June 21 release. And each time the response from industry insiders was a version of, “Well, just how bad is it?” Paramount with these select screenings has just begun the daunting campaign of rehabilitating the film’s battered image. According to Vice Chairman Rob Moore, the studio spent $15M-$20M and 25 shooting days to make WWZ significantly better. Yet the reward has been worse advance buzz than if Paramount had kept its wallet shut and quietly released the inferior original. I don’t know if I would have penned this post had I hated the movie, but I consider myself a connoisseur of zombie fare, and this stacks up very favorably. I’m no reviewer, but I can honestly say that WWZ is better than good; try a rocking, smart, pulse-pounding big-scale pandemic with raging zombies, palpable tension, and the kind of hero star turn Pitt hasn’t performed in a long time.
You know things are bad when your star mouths off about a troubled film before it even opens. His complaints well into production were made to fill-in fixer Damon Lindelof who blurted them out in turn. Scripting issues crippled the globetrotting zombie pic from the get-go. J. Michael Straczynski’s first script was scrapped. Matthew Carnahan’s subsequent version deviated from the source novel by Max Brooks. Fans were alarmed at the prospective story changes. Then filming got underway for director Marc Forster before an ending was set – and Pitt wound up hating what was shot, preferring the project’s early geopolitical bent to the action thriller slant. The film’s initial ending was abrupt and incoherent, Lindelof told Vanity Fair, and an initial studio screening supposedly left suits in shock. “It was like, ‘Wow, the ending of our movie doesn’t work,” publicly admitted Paramount President of Production Marc Evans. “I believed in that moment we needed to reshoot the movie.” So how many hot screenwriters did it take to finish a zombie movie? Paramount turned to Lindelof to fix the pic, but the job was so big he brought in Drew Goddard. Christopher McQuarrie was tapped for even more re-writes. Reshoots skyrocketed the budget to a reported $200M, though Paramount insists they contained it. Already filmed scenes set in Russia and Budapest as well as a battle scene were chopped as crew shot 40 additional minutes for a new conclusion with reshoots that went on for a reported 7 weeks. Meanwhile a budgeting nightmare unfolded when crew wrapping the Malta set discovered millions in unpaid purchase orders forgotten in a drawer. Given the behind-the-scenes mayhem, negative early fan reactions to World War Z‘s fast-moving CG zombie swarms were the least of Paramount’s worries.
That solidly detailed Vanity Fair article created major blowback this month. It grew worse after a widely circulated flop prognostication by Wall Street analyst Doug Creutz of Cowen and Company (even though he hadn’t seen the film). “In the Vanity Fair article, we were forthcoming about the production and creative problems and how we solved them and ended up with a movie that plays great and is likely to be a global hit,” Moore told me. “The thing that really led to more negative stories was the insanity of this Cowen and Company analyst report, written by a guy who hadn’t seen the movie, the footage we showed at ShoWest, or gotten any pre-summer tracking. He just comes off the mountain top to make a prediction based on nothing, and because he’s got the letters CFA after his name, people think he must know what he is talking about, which is preposterous.”
Moore told me that chasing a fix on WWZ was the ballsiest bet like this made since he has been at Paramount. “It was no question one of the toughest decisions we’ve made as a group, but knowing what we know now, it was absolutely the right decision,” he said. He figures the release delay and extra work that went into G.I. Joe led to $100 million in extra ticket sales worldwide, and he believes WWZ will deliver an even bigger payoff. It would just be nice to see a little more understanding among the media and Wall Street analysts, to recognize that just because a film has problems during the process of production, that doesn’t mean it’s doomed.
“When you draw attention to yourself by acknowledging you have a problem you’re trying to fix, it becomes sport to the media to pick on you,” he said. “It becomes hard to say, ‘We don’t care about the short-term publicity hit, what we care about is making the best movie.’ The political pressure against you becomes great and can make it seem like it’s better to leave it alone. Here, that pressure was even bigger because it is Brad Pitt, and because of the size of the solution. But I’m telling you right here, it was definitely the right call. We now have the best version of this movie, and people will see that soon.”
EXCLUSIVE: Logan Lerman is joining Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf in Fury, the WWII tank thriller that David Ayer wrote and is directing for QED and Sony Pictures. Lerman will play Norman Ellison, an Army typist and the youngest and most inexperienced member of the crew who is thrust into being a tank gunner.
Sony Pictures won the right to distribute domestically and in most of the world, with some territories belonging to QED, whose Bill Block took a big risk by paying $1 million for Ayer’s spec, and then watched it pay off quickly when Pitt committed to the $80 million film. QED will produce with John Lesher and his Le Grisbi Productions banner. Ethan Smith, Block and Lesher are producing and they are eyeing a fall production start. The action takes place in 1945 as the Nazi regime collapses and the five-man crew of an American tank called Fury battles a desperate German army.
EXCLUSIVE: Brad Pitt is in final negotiations to star in Fury, the David Ayer-directed drama that will start production in September. This is the Ayer script that Bill Block‘s QED International paid $1 million to acquire back in February. It was QED’s biggest spec deal ever, and when an indie company hooks a star like Pitt, it’s money well spent. Fury is a WWII script by the End Of Watch writer-director, and QED will produce with John Lesher and his Le Grisbi Productions banner. Ethan Smith, Block and Lesher are producing and they are eyeing a fall production start. QED is selling foreign.
The action takes place in 1945 as the Nazi regime collapses and the five-man crew of an American tank called Fury battles a desperate German army. Ayer and QED reteam after the action thriller Ten, which Ayer directed and which stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington and Mireille Enos. Open Road will release it next January. Lesher produced Ayer’s End Of Watch. Pitt most recently starred in and produced World War Z, but he’s back in the WWII territory of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.
ABC made a late charge on the pilot pickup front to end what will likely be the busiest day this season. (For full list of all broadcast pilots, click here.) The network has given the green light to comedy Pulling, from Bad Teachers scribes Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky and producer Aaron Kaplan. On the drama side, picked up are dramas Betrayal from David Zabel; Venice from McG and Byron Balasco, with McG set to direct; and The Returned, from writer Aaron Zelman, Brad Pitt’s Plan B and Brillstein Entertainment Partners.
Single-camera comedy Pulling is based on the praised 2006 British series. Eisenberg and Stupnitsky wrote the adaptation, produced by ABC Studios and Kapital Entertainment. Sharon Horgan and Dennis Kelly, creators of the original series, executive produce with Eisenberg, Stupnitsky and Kaplan. Pulling revolves around three dysfunctional women in their 30s living their lives the way they want, even if society tells them they should have it all figured out by this point. This marks the second pilot order for Kaplan today, joining CBS’ Dana Klein comedy, and third so far this season, along with NBC’s The Gates.
Brad Pitt’s ‘Killing Them Softly’ Dies With ‘F’ CinemaScore As Twilight Saga, James Bond, And ‘Lincoln’ Dominate Box Office Yet Again
SUNDAY 7:30 AM, 3RD UPDATE: No change in the three top movies’ order at the domestic box office: Summit Entertainment’s Twilight Saga finale Breaking Dawn Part 2 is #1 for the third weekend in a row, the …
Here’s the latest trailer for writer-director Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, based on George V. Higgins’ novel Cogan’s Trade. Brad Pitt stars as a mob enforcer/hit man in The Weinstein Company release that opens November 30th. The movie also features Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins and James Gandolfini:
After closing down the New York Film Festival on Sunday night with the Robert Zemeckis-directed Flight, Paramount chief Brad Grey and production topper Adam Goodman hung around Gotham for an extra day to show a promo reel from its slate through 2014.
Flanking Grey in the Paramount screening room at 15125 Broadway were Flight helmer Robert Zemeckis and David Chase, the Sopranos creator whose feature film debut Not Fade Away (see the trailer here) was part of a reel that included another Transformers and the Star Trek sequel (they showed JJ Abrams’ appearance on Conan O’Brien, where the ultra-secretive JJ was eager to show three frames of Star Trek Into Darkness, a humorous aside because you couldn’t see a thing). There was Jack Reacher with Tom Cruise who, despite being nearly a foot shorter and 100 pounds lighter than the hulking hero of Lee Child’s book, capably kicks ass in the launch of yet another franchise, with another Mission: Impossible clearly in the offing. There was the G.I. Joe sequel, pushed to next year and now in 3D and built around Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis. And the relaunch of the Jack Ryan franchise with Star Trek‘s Chris Pine, who just signed with CAA and seems an agency’s ultimate catch since he will soon be on firm footing headlining two big franchises.
EXCLUSIVE: While reports had Damon Lindelof coming in to write a new ending to the Marc Forster-directed Brad Pitt-starrer World War Z, it actually was his Lost compadre Drew Goddard who did the bulk of the writing of the finale. Lindelof, who reworked Prometheus and co-wrote the Star Trek sequel, cracked a potential new ending of the film, but Lindelof didn’t have time to do the scripting so that task fell to Goddard, who most recently adapted Robopocalypse, which is Steven Spielberg’s next film at DreamWorks.
Both of those guys are off to other projects, so it’s quite possible that Paramount will tap another writer to punch up this ending — if the studio decides to use it. I’m hearing Christopher McQuarrie, whom the studio is high on after he adapted and directed Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher, based on the Lee Child novels. That isn’t set in stone because McQuarrie is Cruise’s go-to guy and he will be doing some script work on All You Need Is Kill, the Doug Liman-directed action film that Cruise will next star in after he completes Oblivion. So it is questionable whether he will be available or whether Paramount will need him. No date has been set for the reshoots that will be needed to implement the new ending, but insiders say Forster will be shooting those scenes.