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On Thursday, Andrew Stanton refuted claims that his upcoming sci-fi opus John Carter went over budget. Following an article by Kim Masters that ran in the Jan. issue of THR‘s print magazine as well as online which stated his film’s initial $175 million price tag ballooned to a rumored $300 million, Stanton told reporters that those reports were “a complete and utter lie.”
Speaking during a roundtable interview at the John Carter junket in Phoenix, AZ, Stanton said, “I want to go completely on record that I literally was on budget and on time the entire shoot. Disney is so completely psyched that I stayed on budget and on time that they let me have a longer reshoot.” Stanton however did not address reports that the final cost of the movie, including extensive reshoots, has exceeded $300 million.
The focus of Masters’ original article was on the rising costs of tentpole blockbusters, and the potential risk that inexperienced directors (or in Stanton’s case, first-time live-action filmmakers) present to studios if they don’t successfully control the demands of those productions. John Carter was mentioned alongside Carl Erik Rinsch‘s 47 Ronin, whose own $175 million budget grew in the wake of a “tense, combative shoot,” and in various interviews, Stanton highlighted the differences between the ongoing collaborative process on his Pixar efforts Finding Nemo and Wall-E, and the logistical forethought required for a live-action production.
“Animation, because you can put it all up in drawing form that you’re not going to keep, in the grand scheme of things it’s a cheap way to make something,” Stanton told reporters at a preview event in late 2011. “You draw it, you put your own voice on it, you cut it, and you don’t like it, and you do it again. You do it every six months over three to four years. Every time you do that, that’s the equivalent of a reshoot, so I’ve been taught how to make a movie with four reshoots built in every time. And you wonder why our movies are good? It’s not because we’re smarter, it’s not because we’re better, it’s because we are in a system that recognizes that you don’t go, ‘Oh my god, okay, I’m going to paint this, but I can only touch the brush once and I’m only going to make one stroke’.”
Producer Lindsey Collins, who also spoke with reporters at the junket, acknowledged the challenges of pulling the movie together in the switch from animation to live action. “It’s the way we’ve always worked and certainly at Pixar that’s how we work – we get it all up there and put it up and we watch it and go, ‘That’s not working, let’s move that over here’,” she said. “So it doesn’t surprise me at all that that’s how Andrew worked on this one.”
Masters reported that Stanton delivered a 170-minute cut to the studio which was subsequently rejiggered with new storyboards, and eventually, reshoots to clarify the story and better define some of the characters. Stanton didn’t indicate what parts of the film were reshot, but he specifically credited an on-time and on-budget production for his ability to go back and shoot more footage. “That is just fascinating to me that people would think that’s true,” he said. “I actually stayed on budget and on time because I knew that I had a reshoot.”
Distributor Disney hasn’t released official numbers for John Carter‘s budget, and without definitive numbers confirming its cost either initially or after those reshoots, Stanton’s claims were unable to be verified at press time. Nevertheless it is possible that the filmmaker remained within the financial parameters the studio set, and its price tag went up as he raced to complete the film in time for its March 9, 2012 opening day. Ultimately, what’s most important is how the film performs at the box office: the cost may be irrelevant if worldwide revenues are significant enough to turn the Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation into a hit. But given the film’s underwhelming tracking numbers as it enters the last few weeks before opening, Disney execs may be crossing their fingers and hoping for the best even as they hurry to reconsider how much latitude to give to filmmakers in the future.
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