Reshoots: they're the new principal photography, it would seem. Every so often, a story will crop up that some major movie has reassembled its cast and crew for what's usually referred to as "additional photography." And it's easy for that to be blown up into some kind of scaremongering story, when in actual fact, it's hard to find a film that doesn't go back for more after the main bulk of its shoot has wrapped. More often than not it's for "pick-ups" — filling in some gaps, fixing some scenes that may have had some technical issues. Sometimes it's to add a new ending, or new scenes elsewhere in the picture, which may have occured to the filmmakers once in post-production. Virtually every major movie budgets and schedules for a week or two of additional photography, and almost every successful movie of the last few years — "Avatar," "The Avengers," "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2," "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" — had some kind of reshoots.
But that's not to say that they're always a good sign. According to The Hollywood Reporter, one of the reasons that the budget on "John Carter" went so high is that director Andrew Stanton, used to reworking films while at Pixar, "embarked on extensive and costly reshoots" (something fervently denied by the helmer, who called it "a complete and utter lie," saying that Disney had let him go for longer reshoots because his principal photography had come in on time and on budget). Regardless of who you believe, the reports helped start the media feeding frenzy on "John Carter," now one of the biggest money-losers of the year.
Other films had it even worse — both "The Invasion" and "Jonah Hex" famously replaced their directors for extensive reshoots, with Oliver Hirschbiegel swapped out for James McTeigue on the former, and Jimmy Hayward for Francis Lawrence on the latter. In neither case did it help to make the film better, or more coherent, and both flopped at the box office. Now, in 2012, we are seeing some high profile movies being pushed back significantly in order to accomodate vast, expensive, expansive reshoots, and some of these may point to signs of trouble.
First, there was "47 Ronin." The Japanese-set epic, starring Keanu Reeves, and budgeted at $175 million or so, started filming early last summer, and was set for a key tentpole release date in late November. But shortly before Christmas, we started to hear rumors around the London filmmaking community that the film was planning 6-8 weeks of reshoots at Shepperton Studios, and that it was possible that debut director Carl Erik Rinsch (a commercials helmer who at one point was set to direct the film that became "Prometheus," before his father-in-law Ridley Scott stepped in instead) wouldn't be involved, with Universal bringing another helmer in to direct them.
We couldn't confirm anything at the time, but reports soon emerged that backed it up: The Hollywood Reporter said that after a "tense, combatative shoot," the film had gone way over budget, and the studio had brought in executives embedded on the shoot to crack down on the director. A new editor was being brought in, and the studio were said to considering whether to let Rinsch shoot desired additional action sequences. And it sounds as if they gave in: back in April, Universal announced that they were pushing the film to February 2013, in order to, as they claimed, perfect the 3D effects. In reality, it's been an open secret that the film's had substantial and costly reshoots, although it's unclear if Rinsch was behind the camera on them.
Then, a few weeks later, Paramount, in almost unprecedent move, delayed "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" nine months, to March 2013, only five weeks before release. Initially, the company said that it was because they'd decided to convert the film to 3D in order to boost international box office. In reality, it seems, executives looked at the film and worried that they wouldn't be able to compete in a crowded marketplace, with "The Amazing Spider-Man" landing a week later, and wanted to add more of Channing Tatum, who was originally to be killed off. Since his star went supernova this year, Tatum now much more value to the company (we've heard that a certain freshly-minted star felt he'd been badly treated by the company, and wanted nothing to do with any reshoots, but a deal may have since been made).
But could that be a cover too? Reactions from test screenings have been genuinely dismal, which was surely the biggest reason that the studio decided to delay. And according to Drew McWeeney at HitFix "Things are starting to get genuinely contentious between director Jon Chu and the studio, and right now, there is a chance he won't be directly involved at all with the reshoots." Indeed, the young helmer may even try to resort to legal tactics to ensure that he remains involved in the project. In short: it's an absolute mess, but it's also another film that is trying to save itself from disaster with what would seem to be extensive reshoots (resurrecting Tatum's character, and including more scenes of him and Dwayne Johnson, can't be a minor undertaking).
And now we have a third, as Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail reports that Brad Pitt has gone to Budapest for a whopping seven weeks of additional shooting on "World War Z," the zombie tentpole movie he's starring in, also at Paramount. The film, directed by Marc Forster, was originally set to open on December 21st but was pushed back to June 21, 2013. At the time, we'd assumed it was a question of getting out of the way of a jam-packed Christmas season, but the sheer length of these reshoots (outside of the big-budget world, entire films can be made in much less than seven weeks, and the additional photography on "John Carter" lasted only 18 days — somewhere between three and four weeks). We'll assume until proven otherwise that relations between Forster and Paramount are still rosy, but reshoots of this scope and scale suggest strongly that the film has major, major issues, and that may have been the biggest reason for the delay.
So what the devil is going on? Why have studios decided to spend nine figure sums on movies that need fixing after they worked? Perhaps more crucially, how bad did things get that Paramount, who were riding high at the start of the year with "Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol," have ended up pulling both of their major 2012 tentpole hopes from the release schedule? "Star Trek 2" was originally being eyed for release this month, but J.J. Abrams valiantly put his foot down and refused to let the script and production be rushed, which meant that the film was pushed back to the summer of 2013. Thus, the company were left with a gap, and "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," a continuation of a franchise-starter that actually lost the studio money significant amounts of money, theatrically at least, was hurried in front of cameras. It would appear, however, that plan backfired. They're now left without a summer tentpole anyway, and shifting 'Retaliation' to next year has created a perceptionthat the movie is a disaster, however right or wrong that may be.
But the situation with "World War Z" might be more complicated. The film was in development for years, with several A-list writers involved, and Marc Forster is a safe pair of hands rather than some artistic firecracker (or newcomer). We suspect that the subject matter may be one of the things causing problems. It's aiming to be a PG-13 tentpole revolving around a zombie apocalypse, and the tone is likely dark and dour. But it's also possible that the film finally got the greenlight simply because Pitt had a hole in his schedule, a factor far more important for the studio than whether the script is right. "47 Ronin" is a different beast — the overages and need for reshoots seems to be down to a combatative first-time helmer (although "Drive" writer Hossein Amini was brought on relatively late to polish the script, as he did on "Snow White And The Huntsman").
We hope that all three films turn out to be great. We hope they all turn out to be hits — no one likes to see a giant flop, particularly when promising directors like Chu or Rinsch are involved. But history is not on their side, when it comes to reshoots of this extent, and reshoots, particularly when new directors are involved, tend to stick out like a sore thumb. Either way, it's indicative of a culture of fear among the studios at the moment. After a lackluster box office in 2011, things picked up this year, but May saw film after film disappoint, with "Dark Shadows," "The Dictator," "Battleship" and even "Men In Black 3" underwhelming (the latter another film with a troubled, contentious production, although the surprisingly decent reviews suggest it may be an example where spending a little extra money helped it creatively).
Ultimately, the problems with the recent slate was that not many people wanted to see them. Studios dumped hundreds of million dollars on a comedic remake of a campy TV vampire soap, an actioner based on a board game, a comedy about a Middle Eastern despot, and a third installment of a franchise that followed up a dismal second movie a decade ago, without stopping to think if audiences would care about them in the number that they thought they would. And looking at the three films facing reshoots, it's easy to see why studios might start to panic, and do anything they can to make them more appealing. Whether they fix the situation, or make it worse, remains to be seen, but we certainly hope that executives start to learn from their mistakes on these films sooner rather than later.