For Sony and director Ridley Scott, to do nothing would have been likely the riskiest and most costly option. Kevin Spacey portrayed oil tycoon Jean Paul Getty in the just-completed film “All the Money In the World,” but before its scheduled AFI closing-night premiere November 16, Spacey faced mounting allegations ranging from sexual harassment to rape.
Spacey went from heavily lauded actor to toxic waste dump In the space of a fortnight, transforming a much-needed potential bright spot in the Sony calendar into a $40 million albatross. No amount of clever PR and marketing could make up the difference with Spacey in that role; if there’s one thing the last 35 days have taught us, taking the wait-it-out approach to sexual-assault charges is futile.
Sony and Scott’s choice to quickly reshoot the film with Christopher Plummer in the role of Getty is groundbreaking; it also feels like the morally charged action we desperately need to see in Hollywood. And it’s a clever move. Now there’s a sense of excitement and must-see enthusiasm for a film that, 24 hours ago, seemed doomed to ignominy. Crisis management as marketing brilliance could mean of tens of millions of dollars for Sony.
That said: There are 41 days until the film’s December 22 national release date, which remains unchanged. Pulling this off is an unprecedented challenge, but most factors point to it being a surprisingly doable one, save for a couple of very big stumbling blocks. And all of it is likely still being hammered out by a group of people who haven’t slept in 72 hours.
Spacey was never the lead.
“All the Money in the World” centers on the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III for a $17 million ransom; his grandfather (Spacey, now Plummer), the richest man in the world, refused to pay it. However, Scott’s movie focuses on the desperate efforts of the boy’s mother (Michelle Williams) and Getty’s ex-CIA security chief (Mark Wahlberg) to keep the teenager alive. Walhberg and Williams are the film’s center; Getty, who was 80 at the time of the events, is an elderly and sedentary role that Spacey reportedly needed only 10 days to shoot.
This couldn’t have happened to a better director.
Ridley Scott is old school. This isn’t the guy who shoots a ton of coverage, or deals with actors who need to “find the scene.” He’s known to storyboard scenes within an inch of their life, and has a reputation for knowing what he wants and moving quickly. (The film wrapped August 14 and was set to premiere 13 weeks later.) If this had to happen to anyone, let it be him; he can go in with a scalpel to remove Spacey efficiently.
With Spacey’s scenes already cut, sound designed, and scored, the trick will be for Scott and Plummer to match the cadence and pace of Plummer’s performance to Spacey’s — which, based on the trailer, is that of a man so rich and powerful he doesn’t need to move quickly for anyone, even his grandson’s kidnappers. No doubt there will be an editor on set (lucky for Scott that he went digital a few years ago) who will make sure they’ve got matching footage. If Scott can maintain the rhythms of the story world he’s already created, then adjusting music cues, minor editing, sound mix, and color correction should be more than manageable on a tight schedule.
Plummer doesn’t need Spacey’s age makeup.
Getty was 80 when his grandson was kidnapped, and the 58-year-old Spacey needed heavy and time-consuming prosthetics to portray him. Casting an 87-year old Plummer means a lot less time in the makeup chair.
The biggest issue isn’t the actors; it’s the production design.
If Spacey needed only 10 shooting days, then reshooting his scenes should require significantly less time since it’s only his coverage that matters. However, there’s one problem, and it’s a doozy: “All the Money in the World” is a period film. That suggests multiple obstacles, decisions, and compromises, especially against the backdrop of “the richest man in the world.”
If these were sets, that would be a labor-intensive but doable soundstage. Based on the trailer, most of Getty’s world appears to be location work. Assuming locations are even available — Scott used Elveden Estate in Suffolk, England as Getty’s Moroccan palace — the time it takes to rig these locations for extensive lighting (few directors today use bold light quite as expressively) and dressing the set for period detail takes time, access, and manpower.
This isn’t the work that can be done by a skeleton crew grabbing pickup shots. Just putting the band back together is a massive effort, if they’re even available. However, Scott has a loyal crew, many supporting actors likely have additional reshoot or voiceover days in their contracts, and vendors will not take this opportunity hang its customers out to dry. It’s likely everyone will want to pitch in to make this happen, but the logistics are daunting.
The other problem: VFX
IndieWire spoke to post-production professionals who highlighted a few key factors that make using visual effects to add Plummer and remove Spacey more difficult than might be imagined.
Given the massive press attention, audiences will be keyed to watch the film for digital trickery. “If I told you someone spent eight days removing an actor’s crows’ feet, you would look for it,” said one post-production veteran. “The sleight-of-hand aspect is gone, and could take you right out of the movie.”
Scott dealt with a not-dissimilar situation back in 2000, when actor Oliver Reed died during the production of “Gladiator” and Scott superimposed the actor’s head on a body double. Since then, vfx artists have nearly perfected the ways a person’s eyes, mouth and head sit on a body and move. However, Plummer’s head won’t likely work on Spacey’s body, which appears to have been bulked up for the role.
Green screen and rotoscoping are also difficult; it’s hard to believably match the lighting, especially in Scott’s distinct style. And while Sony appears to have embraced the necessary costs, these vfx require going frame by frame to match movement and blend pixels. They’re as time consuming as they are expensive.
However, there are some ways that visual effects can could be very useful. For Getty’s world, shot in widescreen, they could shoot Plummer in those locations — using monitors to perfectly replicate the shot — then composite the shots together.
For exotic locations, like the desert scene in the trailer, Scott could reshoot Plummer and the cast against a green screen that’s staged and framed in a way that could allow the backdrop to be added in post.
There’s also the question of what can be salvaged with a tight shot of Plummer. Not only does a cutaway allow the actor’s presence to be felt in scenes he wasn’t there to shoot, but lighting in green screen and rotoscoping is also far easier to match when an actor fills the frame.
Finally: If all else fails, there’s rewrites. In addition to screenwriter David Scarpa, Scott has access to author John Pearson, who wrote the book on which the script is based: “Painfully Rich.”