Does 'World War Z' Need To Make $400 Million To Break Even? Vanity Fair Looks At The Runaway Brad Pitt Zombie Movie

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by Edward Davis
April 30, 2013 3:02 PM
24 Comments
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4. So other than the script problems what else went wrong? A little bit of everything: inexperience, poor communication and bad accountability.
Pitt, his production company, and Forster had never mounted something this big and ambitious and with too many cooks, and not enough leadership and accountability, the film spiraled out of control. One day of filming was lost because the caterers didn't have enough food to feed 750 extras. Another half day was lost when one restaurant refused to close in a Malta-square that was otherwise totally shut down. Costumes for extras playing Hassidic Jews didn't account for the massive numbers and last minute costumes had to be flown in from another country or created on the spot. Several other minor mishaps like this lead to a film already way over-budget upon leaving its first major location (Malta, which doubled for Israel). Paramount began to see numbers and got nervous. One of the key location producers was then replaced in favor of Ian Bryce, a guy who has managed to keep Michael Bay's runaway epics on schedule and under budget.

"Wow, The ending of our movie doesn’t work." - Paramount exec Marc Evans said.
“It was quite a logistical headache,” Winston Azzopardi, the location manager for scenes shot in Malta said. “Truthfully, I don’t think we were fully prepared.” Goodman freaked out when he saw the budget overruns out of Malta. “It was literally insane,” Marc Evans, President of Production, Paramount Film Group said. “Adam [Goodman] and I believed we’d gotten out of Malta good and I found out we weren’t. That is a nightmare.” He called the overages an “unthinkable action.”

Breakdowns in communication and lack of leadership were key too. This Forster quote is pretty...interesting...to say the least. “No one came to me and said, ‘You are fucking up here,’” the director said. “So if there are any budgetary issues, they are not my issues.” He said producers hid problems from him to boot. “You don’t know the shit going on behind closed doors,” he said. “You are having a meltdown while working. So I don’t usually know what is going on. Of course, I know what is on set, If you look at directors, they are always protected -- the producers only let you know so much.”

5. The ending didn’t work and had to be scrapped, and Damon Lindelof had three weeks to come up with a new ending.
The Russian section had to be tossed out entirely. The room was silent after the first screening, “I was in my own head for a minute,” Evans said. “It was like, ‘Wow, The ending of our movie doesn’t work.” Goodman liked the first hour, but then became concerned because it became, “a) less suspenseful than I would hope for a movie that is basically a horror premise and that b) it didn’t allow for a sense of a triumphant ending, something you could get behind.” Pitt, Plan B’s Dede Gardner, everyone felt the same. Forster agrees too. “Yes, we all thought it was going to work... but I think this movie is more original and bigger and more special than I have ever done before.”

They screened a 72 minute cut for Lindelof, purposefully excluding things they didn’t want in the movie, but he eventually asked to screen that version regardless as the shorter version was abrupt and incoherent. “The thing we really need right now is someone who is not burdened by all the history that this thing is inheriting, who can see what we’ve got and tell us how to get to where we need to get,” Pitt told Lindelof. And the screenwriter laid it out with clarity.

“I said to them, There are two roads to go down here. Is there material that can be written to make that stuff work better? To have it make sense? To have it have emotional stakes? And plot logic and all that? And Road Two, which I think is the long-shot road, is that everything changes after Brad leaves Israel,” Lindelof explained, noting the second option would require dumping footage that had already been shot.  “I didn’t think anyone was going to say, ‘Let’s throw it out and try something else.’ So when I gave them those two roads and they sounded more interested in Road B, I was like, ‘To be honest with you, good luck selling that to Paramount.’ ”

But Paramount bit, and Lindelof repositioned Pitt's character from an everyman that “shifted... into a calculated zombie killer” and give him a clearer goal. “It has to be an emotional task,” Lindelof said.

Vanity Fair says, “absent from the reshoot were the huge action spectacles.” Of the additional shooting, Forster said, “It was a different setting. The maximum amount of actors or human beings on that set were 20.”

It’s a 5,000+ word piece and this is just the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a pretty fascinating read and an interesting anatomy of how an expensive studio piece gets derailed. If anything, the big take away feels like the difference between, “Iron Man 2” and “Iron Man 3.” The former is a louder, bigger-is-better dud. The latter is a surprisingly small-scaled character piece that’s not as big and ambitious, but way more effective and satisfying as a movie. Will it work? Who knows. This new issue of Vanity Fair is on stands now.

"World War Z" opens on June 21st, check out a new featurette below

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24 Comments

  • V G | May 31, 2013 6:31 PMReply

    Let me get this straight--- they threw out Straczynski's scrypt-- they threw out the source material and they don't want to offend China by including a pivotal part of the original story....yeah.. I think I will just buy the book.

  • Dan | May 7, 2013 1:56 AMReply

    "Evidently, Marc Forster was looking to redeem himself in the action-franchise realm after the critically despised".

    Actually it didn't receive bad reviews. Reviews weren't great, but they weren't negative.

    Audiences didn't like it as much though.

  • Dr.Movie | May 6, 2013 12:33 PMReply

    Well if the budget is really $400 Million they need to make by far more to break even!
    Marketing, distribution etc etc gets added to the bill so for breaking even, it has to be by far more.
    And btw there are other movies with a "real" budget of $400 Million.

  • Jeff Mclachlan | May 2, 2013 1:53 AMReply

    I don't hold up much hope for this being any good (and I anticipate the Mark Forster will be in director jail for a LONG time after it comes out), but I think with international it might be able to crack $400 million. Just.

  • Sad Rockstar | May 1, 2013 2:53 PMReply

    This is going to be a shitty ass movie. Ill wait until it arrives on netflix.

  • Jeff Mclachlan | May 2, 2013 1:55 AM

    Why would you watch a shitty movie on netflix? There's lots of good ones on there too.

  • Malcolm | May 1, 2013 8:44 AMReply

    The real reason for the remake is that the producers did not want to offend China.

    All references to China being the source of the zombie plague had to be removed from the film. This changes the whole idea of the book.

    Hollywood made a bad decision by trying to suck up to China.

  • Malcolm | May 1, 2013 8:44 AMReply

    The real reason for the remake is that the producers did not want to offend China.

    All references to China being the source of the zombie plague had to be removed from the film. This changes the whole idea of the book.

    Hollywood made a bad decision by trying to suck up to China.

  • Malcolm | May 1, 2013 8:44 AMReply

    The real reason for the remake is that the producers did not want to offend China.

    All references to China being the source of the zombie plague had to be removed from the film. This changes the whole idea of the book.

    Hollywood made a bad decision by trying to suck up to China.

  • Donella | April 30, 2013 8:47 PMReply

    No wonder Max Brooks distanced himself. Sounds like a real cluster.

  • Sax | April 30, 2013 7:38 PMReply

    Stellar reporting!

  • Adam Scott Thompson | April 30, 2013 7:22 PMReply

    I got more of a Alan J. Pakula vibe from the book than a Michael Bay "stuff explodes and shit" vibe. Oh well. When I heard Brad Pitt was attached I thought "Contagion," but with zombies. I guess the studio was going for "John McClane, Zombie Hunter."

  • fanboyzero | April 30, 2013 7:00 PMReply

    Looks like Spielberg's War of the Worlds.

  • PHILLIPS_WAS_RIGHT | April 30, 2013 6:48 PMReply

    Let's say it actually costs 200M, then add 100M in WW marketing and you've got 300M sunk into this. Man of Steel opens the week before and White House Down opens the week after. This has disaster written all over it. Overseas grosses need to be insane to salvage this thing.

  • PHILLIPS_WAS_RIGHT | April 30, 2013 6:47 PMReply

    Let's say it actually costs 200M, then add 100M in WW marketing and you've got 300M sunk into this. Man of Steel opens the week before and White House Down opens the week after. This has disaster written all over it. Overseas grosses need to be insane to salvage this thing.

  • Denise | April 30, 2013 6:23 PMReply

    "Our movie is in trouble! Let's call the guy from Lost. I heard he rewrote Prometheus and it is great!" said a Paramount source.

    Geeeeeez. I'll be surprised it turns out to be decent.

  • Abe | May 1, 2013 10:36 AM

    If there's one thing that wasn't satisfying from Prometheus and Lost it was the endings. He's great at setting things up (the polar bear, the architects) but his resolutions are a bit disappointing.

  • dan | April 30, 2013 6:19 PMReply

    One more thing. "Paramount must be annoyed."
    If Paramount is annoyed then why did they let VF speak to Adam Goodman, President, Paramount Film Group and Marc Evans. President of Production, Paramount Film Group?
    They must have had Brad Grey's approval to talk to VF.

  • dan | April 30, 2013 5:13 PMReply

    $200M production budget plus $50-60 marketing means closer to $500M to break even

  • CARY | April 30, 2013 6:27 PM

    and... they have to spend much more than $50-60M for marketing to compete in very crowded summer.

  • Gittes | April 30, 2013 3:36 PMReply

    The J. Michael Straczynski drafts are utter crap, just a complete void. Don't believe his lies.

  • Gittes | April 30, 2013 3:35 PMReply

    The J. Michael Straczynski drafts are utter crap, just a complete void. Don't believe his lies.

  • torre | May 1, 2013 7:26 PM

    his draft wasn't perfect, but it was light years ahead of the final product.

  • Xian | April 30, 2013 3:34 PMReply

    Can you just imagine if an indi-producer/director like George A. Romero had to put up with this shit at the time of filming 1978's "Dawn of the Dead"? (He did in fact have to put up with a lot of bullshit on "Day of the Dead" including budget issues directly related to it's X- or "unrated" violence and a host of other issues that were mainly producer-oriented).

    "Gee, George, we'd like to see only PG-rated violence, no beheadings, no dismemberment, no chewing, no bloodshed at all if you can swing it." "Gee, George, your ending doesn't work... Too dark, nobody really gets away in a triumphant way, the zombies kinda win... how depressing is that, George? Can you reshoot it so that Fran meets up with her family at the end for the birth of her baby, and maybe Peter can meet up with that "brother" of his... whaddya say, George?"

    Needless to say, "World War Z" is a lost opportunity to film a fantastic book by Max Brooks... it could have had a 70s political-thriller flavor to it, and instead they opted to shoot Michael Bay styled crap with a Spielbergian saccharine sweet ending. I'll be avoiding this one when it's out.

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