'Pearl' Jam / A big-spending director gets the green light from frugal Disney

Posted on Nov 24, 1999

Michael is featured in an article on the Hollywood Reporter chosing him as “Person of the Week.” Before reading it, I would like to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to you all. Take care.

‘Pearl’ Jam / A big-spending director gets the green light from frugal Disney

By Stephen Galloway

No one has ever accused Michael Bay of lacking chutzpah. But when the thirtysomething director’s new movie, tentatively titled “Pearl Harbor,” got the green light last week, a great many pundits had their breath taken away.

The reason: “Pearl” is going into production with an officially sanctioned $145 million budget. That’s $10 million more than Bay’s last flick, “Armageddon,” hitherto the costliest movie ever to be greenlit.

True, other films have cost more. “Titanic” springs to mind, at $200 million-plus. And let’s not forget “Waterworld” and “Wild Wild West” and “Lethal Weapon 4″ and … the list goes on.

But the difference between these pictures and “Pearl Harbor” was that they ended up costing so much; at the time they were initiated, their budgets were just a fraction of their final cost. Indeed, “Titanic” was expected to sail in at around $90 million-$100 million, until a few minor seafaring snafus got in the way.

“Pearl Harbor” is an anomaly at a time when Hollywood has been struggling to cut costs. Other major movies, from the Arnold Schwarzenegger starrer “I Am Legend” to the Robin Williams vehicle “Bicentennial Man,” have been killed or were put on temporary hold because their budgets topped the now-verboten $100 million mark.

And Disney, in particular, has been budget-conscious since its struggling stock price led company chairman Michael Eisner to mandate widespread cuts and a hiring freeze.

But maybe that cost-cutting is about to start loosening up. Disney has been flush with one of the best boxoffice runs in motion picture history. After halving the number of films it makes, down to around 15 live actioners a year, it has continued to ride a boxoffice tsunami, emphasizing a deft mix of family films and “event” releases. This year it will easily cruise in at No. 1. And, with the “Pearl Harbor” project, it is betting on two proven commodities: the blockbustering Jerry Bruckheimer and his occasional stablemate Bay, who together have hit home runs not only with “Armageddon” but also with “The Rock.”

Hollywood can afford to take a few risks. Still, future greenlighters may also remember the lessons 20th Century Fox has learned. In the wake of “Titanic,” budgets have been slashed at the studio. And if Bay had gone ahead and made his next picture for Fox, as planned, it wouldn’t have been the $145 million “Pearl Harbor” but an altogether more modest affair: the $10 million “Phone Booth.”

MSN…

Posted on Nov 23, 1999

No major news today. I did get an e-mail telling me how msn.com describes this site :

“Very flashy tribute to the director of such films as ‘Armageddon’ and ‘The Rock’ features video clips, a bio, a filmography, and a chat room.”

Hey not bad eh? I’ll share something with you guys & girls today. Remember when I met Michael at his office? Well, one of the things that I mentioned to him is that I get a lot of “fucking, angry e-mails” from people who hate Bay’s work (most of them envious people). And then told him how much “commotion” his name causes when an article appears on AICN. And he asked very puzzled: “Why?” I simply answered: “I dunno. I guess they don’t like you or your work.” He then told me that the world would be a better place if these people would worry more about the things happening in Turkey (remember, this conversation took place August 31 of this year) than worrying about his movies. Anyway, I just thought I’d share this with you.

Disney opens fire on 'Pearl Harbor': $145 mil

Posted on Nov 19, 1999

Ok, Disney has given Michael the greenlight on doing Tennessee! Read more about it below

By Chris Gennusa

The Walt Disney Co. has said yes to the most expensive live-action film ever greenlit, Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay’s $145 million “Pearl Harbor” (a k a “Tennessee”) written by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Randall Wallace (“Braveheart”).

While other pictures — most notably 20th Century Fox and Paramount’s $200 million opus “Titanic” and Warner Bros.’ “Wild Wild West” — have cost more, no movie has been given the go-ahead with such a lofty price tag. (Fox committed to “Titanic” when the film was expected to cost a mere $90 million-$100 million.)

The previous watermark was Bay and Bruckheimer’s “Armageddon,” which Disney greenlit at a budget of $135 million. The decision to move forward on “Pearl Harbor” follows weeks of negotiations among Disney, producer Bruckheimer and director Bay, who both made financial concessions to get the picture made.

Under terms of the greenlight, neither Bruckheimer nor Bay will receive their regular first-dollar gross deal, and their back-end participation will be far less than on previous pictures. They will also be held responsible for budgetary overages. The project’s expense stems from Bay’s wish to re-create fully the early-morning bombing of the Hawaiian naval base that pulled the United States into World War II.

Because the money is being spent on production, sources said the picture will be made without A-list star salaries and instead rely on the internationally known Bruckheimer-Bay brand. It is expected that lesser-known actors will be cast, unless top stars are willing to work for scale.

Last month, a second-unit production crew began work on “Pearl Harbor,” even though Disney Studios chairman Joe Roth had not given the drama an official thumbs up. Weeks later, second-unit production stopped, and word came that the filmmakers were trying to shave the budget by reworking the script.

Some pegged the original budget at $200 million. As of last week, sources said the budget was $153 million-$154 million, but it was understood that the studio wanted it trimmed to $140 million. Interestingly, during the studio’s negotiations with the filmmakers, the project began showing up on Disney news releases as a done deal.

Disney has entered into “split rights” deals with other studios, but the studio is committed to financing “Pearl Harbor” on its own, sources said. Disney will likely approach foreign financing entities about investing in the project, but producing-financing firm Spyglass Entertainment (a Disney-based equity partner) has not yet been approached.

“Pearl Harbor” (a working title) begins months before the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese bombing of the Pearl Harbor U.S. naval base in Hawaii and focuses on a pair of brothers who fall in love with the same woman. One brother remains on American soil in the U.S. Air Force, while the other goes overseas to fight in the United Kingdom.

Bay initially called the project “Tennessee,” apparently a code name. Sources said he did not want to repeat the situation in which he found himself with “Armageddon.” When word of that project leaked, DreamWorks and Paramount immediately put the similarly themed “Deep Impact” into production, causing a well-publicized race to the screen.

The commitment to “Pearl Harbor” marks a leap of faith for Disney as the company has been making cutbacks across the board.

With Disney stock hovering at $23-$29 per share for most of the year, company chairman and CEO Michael Eisner recently took the unusual step of holding a conference with shareholders to propose ways to boost profits and lift the stock price. In addition to making staff and budgetary cutbacks, he announced that the company will make a large percentage of its animated classics permanently available on video for the first time.

Disney has long attempted to keep budgets down, a company mantra since a famous memo was issued by Jeffrey Katzenberg in which the then-studio chief proclaimed the benefits of lower budgets following the relatively disappointing performance of “Dick Tracy.”

Bruckheimer and Bay, who have long-term deals at Disney, have collaborated on such films as “Armageddon” and “The Rock.” Separately, Bruckheimer (with late partner Don Simpson) has made such top money earners as “Flashdance,” “Top Gun” and “Crimson Tide.”

. . .

You can read an article on Bay and Tennessee at http://www.aint-it-cool-news.com. I had the pleasure of meeting Harry Knowles of AICN in Santa Monica. He was cool. We talked a little about Michael and the usual reaction critics and film snobs. Harry is one of the few “film geeks” that actually enjoys Michael’s work.

VFX update

Posted on Nov 18, 1999

It’s been a while since I posted something significant. I’ve moved from Massachussetts to California, and I’m in the process of getting settled. Well, one of the dilemas in bringing Tennessee to the screen will be getting all the visual effects done in time for its Christmas 2000 release. Got this from the Hollywood Reporter:

Visual effects have become a hot spot in the ongoing battle to get Michael Bay’s World War II epic “Tennessee” green-lighted. The sizable effects job — easily 300 shots, insiders say — was originally to have gone to Dream Quest Images, which made sense because Disney, the studio producing “Tennessee,” owns Dream Quest, and two of the company’s top effects supervisors — Richard Hoover and Hoyt Yeatman — have long-established relationships with Bay, with whom they worked on “Armageddon” and “The Rock.”

Because of the high volume of work and fairly tight turnaround, it was decided the work would be split between two shops, and Industrial Light & Magic entered the mix. However, in an effort to lower production costs, it was decided that it would be more efficient to have one shop do the work. “It’s always more expensive to work with multiple facilities, because you’re carrying the overhead for both in your budget,” a source on the production said.

At one point, ILM reportedly had the job locked up. The San Francisco-based firm did spectacular World War II work for “Saving Private Ryan” and has a battalion of Oscars, all of which appealed to Bay, who is intent on making “Tennessee” a “prestige” production.

But an eleventh-hour rally by the artists formerly known as Dream Quest, recently rechristened by Disney as the Secret Lab, has put the dark horse back in the running. “They’re just not giving up,” said an insider at Jerry Bruckheimer Films, which is posting “Gone in 60 Seconds” with Secret Lab and has done five other films with DQI. “They sent over a new reel, which absolutely floored us.” On the other hand, “ILM really wants the job,” one insider said. “Michael is a filmmaker they believe in.”

It remains to be seen how much Disney believes in him. Despite the combined track records of Bay and Bruckheimer, there is considerable nail-biting over “Tennesse’s” big budget and whether it will set sail.

One thing is certain. If “Tennessee” does get made, it will be shot at Fox Baja Studios, with whom the producers are negotiating. “For a film like this, you wouldn’t want to shoot anywhere else,” the production source said of the state-of-the-art facility, which boasts the premier tanks for water work. A Secret Lab spokeswoman said the process is ongoing, and it is too premature to comment. ILM declined to comment on the status of its bid.