How a Brad Pitt Mantra, 'Game On, F---ers!,' Fueled His Oscar Contender '12 Years a Slave'
The Plan B star-producer reveals the stomach-churning drama that had his team remaking "World War Z" while developing "Slave," as negative whispers and doubt abounded. Says his partner, Dede Gardner: "It's still hard for me to talk about, to be totally honest."
The hardest thing, says McQueen, was dealing with "the violence. I think the biggest challenge was for the actors, going to these dark places, and for me keeping things together, having to be captain of the ship where you have to make people insane, then come out the other end and be sane again."
While McQueen was dealing with one kind of insanity, Pitt was dealing with another on Z.
Five years after Paramount had bought Max Brooks' novel World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War for Plan B (following a 2006 bidding war with Leonardo DiCaprio's Appian Way) and after writers J. Michael Straczynski and Matt Carnahan had gone through multiple drafts, a difficult shoot had taken place in which one line producer had had to be fired and another brought in.
When a rough cut was assembled, it became clear the ending wasn't working. After the picture was screened for all the producers and Paramount execs Adam Goodman, Marc Evans and Geoff Stier, they and the Plan B team huddled over what to do.
"The conclusion that we needed to reshoot was immediate and uniform," says Gardner. "We were obviously dealing with an enormous responsibility. Paramount was a great partner, but I can't say any of it was calm, and it wouldn't be calm until we made a great movie."
Reports began to circulate that Pitt and director Forster weren't speaking. "The idea they were not speaking was not my experience," says Lindelof, who was brought in to rework the ending. "And more importantly, the way Brad talked about Marc and Marc talked about Brad was entirely respectable, as if they were both creative partners trying to fix a problem."
Admits Grey: "Those were fairly intense times for all of us as filmmakers. But having been in this business some time, both of us know if you put yourself in the arena, it comes with the territory."
The group turned to Lindelof, a longtime Gardner friend, who now suggested rewriting the third act altogether, abandoning an extravagant battle and closing with a more suspenseful, intimate sequence in which Pitt must infiltrate a laboratory riddled with zombies. No other ending was explored. "Damon always felt there needed to be a very kind of personal context for this as opposed to the instinct to scale up," says Kleiner.
Reshoots meant that Z's release would be delayed from late 2012 until summer 2013; but Paramount agreed this was the right way to go, even though it meant Pitt would be promoting two films back-to-back.
Five weeks of Z reshoots commenced in fall 2011 and continued through November, with Pitt juggling that movie and Slave.
With both movies wrapped, Team Pitt hunkered down to complete postproduction on both pictures. After McQueen showed Gardner his cut of Slave in Amsterdam, he flew to Los Angeles and worked with Pitt, who shuttled between the Paramount lot, where Z was being edited, and the San Fernando Valley, where McQueen was finishing his film.
"Brad [juggled the two] with great dexterity," says Gardner. "There was a sense that every minute counted, and if that meant we were there till midnight, we were there till midnight. We would cobble every minute we could. [Brad handled it] gracefully, very conscious of solving the problems we were currently looking at. If we had made a list of all the problems we didn't yet know, it would have been easy to crumble. But if you look at the problems at hand -- it was very methodical. Being methodical is a real muscle, and he has it and knows when to use it."
Given that Pitt, Gardner and Kleiner have children, they were "dependent on the patience of loved ones," says Gardner. She and Kleiner sometimes brought their kids to the editing room, but Pitt always came alone. "We'd have many a night when everyone would say, 'I am going home to have dinner with the kids' or 'I'm going to give the kids a bath and I'll be back in the cutting room,' " says Gardner. "It was just our lives."