'Unstoppable' hits budget snags

Denzel Washington-Tony Scott film could be put on hold

NEW YORK -- "Unstoppable" may be anything but.

The Denzel Washington-Tony Scott runaway-train pic, at one time on the fast track at Fox, is slowing down as a result of disagreements over the appropriate budget.

The project was aiming for a fall shoot -- it is in an early stage of preproduction -- and Washington and Scott said as recently as several weeks ago they were moving forward on that assumption.

But the studio has concerns about the cost of physical production on the action-heavy film, which could lead to the project being put on hold.

Neither the main acting deals -- for Washington and "Star Trek" star Chris Pine -- nor Scott's directing deal are closed.

Washington is an A-lister who earns as much as $20 million per picture at a time when studios say they want to rein in star salaries.

Hollywood execs are pointing to such star-driven projects as "Land of the Lost" and the Washington-Scott actioner "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3," which have faltered at the boxoffice, while concept-driven pics including "Up," "Star Trek" and "The Hangover" have flourished. (Ironically, "Trek" star Pine was one of the actors who broke out in a concept movie; "Unstoppable" was to be a coming-out party of sorts.)

Known for their high production values, Scott's movies tend to travel in a higher-budget range. But Fox is known for managing costs by examining budgets critically.

Neither the studio nor producers would comment for this report.

The pic is hardly the only example of a movie imperiled because of financial considerations.

A week ago, Sony pulled the plug on "Moneyball" just days before it was to begin shooting because studio execs were uncomfortable with the commercial potential of the script for a pic at that budget.

While "Unstoppable" is not thought to be in as precarious a position as the Brad Pitt-toplined "Moneyball," there is an added monkey wrench: The studio has leverage in the wake of "Pelham," the most recent Scott-Washington collaboration, which in three weeks of release has earned a middling $53 million domestically for Sony.

Firm Films' Julie Yorn and other producers have been developing "Unstoppable" -- about a train with toxic chemicals speeding out of control -- for a number of years, with an earlier version set to be directed by Martin Campbell.

Fox has a reputation for keeping a lid on budgets, and the current climate only bolsters its bargaining position.

"A year ago, you could agree on a budget and then come back and give them a higher bill and they'd pay it," said a producer with a deal at a studio. "It doesn't work like that anymore."