In a startling reveal of how dire studio financials have become in this recession, Paramount made a swift and surgical move to trim its year-end budget. Marketing meetings took place last week for Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island, based on the Dennis Lehane novel and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Running a little over two hours, the period mystery looks thrilling and commercial as hell. But the studio looked at the cold hard millions the release would require --even in October, with a possible costly Academy campaign down the line--and pushed the picture back to February 19.
UPDATE: Paramount issued this statement from chairman and CEO Brad Grey:
"Our 2009 slate was greenlit in a very different economic climate and as a result we must remain flexible and willing to recalibrate and adapt to a changing environment. This is a situation facing every single studio as we all work through the financial pressures associated with the broader downturn. Like every business, we must make difficult choices to maximize our overall success and to best manage Paramount’s business in a way that serves Viacom and its shareholders, while providing the film with every possible chance to succeed both creatively and financially.
Leonardo DiCaprio is among the most talented actors working today and Martin Scorsese is not just one of the world's most significant filmmakers, but also a personal friend. Following a highly successful 2009, we have every confidence that Shutter Island is a great anchor to lead off our 2010 slate and the shift in date is the best decision for the film, the studio and ultimately Viacom."
The studio did the same thing last year with DreamWorks' The Soloist, starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jamie Foxx, which was originally intended as an award season play. The adult audience drama was dead on arrival when it opened April 24. The studio backed down on pushing Ed Zwick's Defiance to 2009, granting the filmmaker a limited year-end opening, but the movie never got a full-scale Oscar push.
The crowded fall and holiday seasons are prime awards territory, but the competitive wide releases and overall marketing noise make it more expensive to launch a big picture. This move allows the studio to shave some numbers off its year-end budget and a February campaign costs less, too. The movie, which veers into horrific genre territory, had some Oscar buzz, but studio execs were downplaying their awards plans. Besides, Scorsese's 2006 The Departed won four Oscars, including best picture and director.
"It says a lot about the health of the industry," said one source close to Shutter Island. "The picture had buzz and plays well. Dennis Lehane saw it and loved it."
UPDATE: One agent has another interpretation: Paramount was scared of a non-brand-name movie that veered into Cape Fear territory. "It was not a high-concept movie. It looks small. It was expensive. If it was a P & A issue, they could have found someone to take the P & A on that."
Here's the trailer:
[Hat Tip: DHD.]