Like two gunfighters squaring off on a dusty street in a frontier town, Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski are staring down Walt Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross over the fate of their long in development adaption of The Lone Ranger. And if Ross makes one wrong move, the entire project could fall apart.
For the past couple of weeks, Disney has been reluctant to greenlight the film due to concerns over the project’s projected price tag, which has been reported to be anywhere between $250 and $275 million. Verbinski has been hard at work with producer Jerry Bruckheimer to trim the budget as much as they can without compromising the film they want to tell.
Deadline is reporting that Verbinski and Bruckheimer have managed to whittle the cost down to approximately $215 million, which is less than their $220 million compromise amount that Disney has indicated that they might be willing to accept, but still above the $200 million that the studio would prefer. (Some of these cuts probably came from Bruckheimer, Verbinski and Depp’s salaries, which are being estimated at about $30 million.)
Greenlighting the film with this new budget would seem like an easy call for the studio to make. As Depp’s Pirates Of The Caribbean films and Alice In Wonderland have raked in literally billions for the studio, it is hard to see why they wouldn’t believe that this film would be a moneymaker as well. The holdup is Disney’s concerns over Verbinski as a director. Although they are happy with the box office returns on the first three Pirates move that Verbinski directed, they were less than happy with his budgets be damned attitude.
In all likelihood, Disney would probably be happy to just go ahead with the movie but with a different director behind the camera. The problem with that is Depp and his loyalty to his friend Verbinski. Insiders have told Deadline that Depp will not make the movie without Verbinski in the director’s chair.
So studio chief Ross’s decision seems to boil down to making The Lone Ranger with Verbinski as director and smile while choking down any cost overruns the director manages to rack up, insist on a change of director and run the risk that Depp walks, scuttling the film or just cancel the film himself.
Remember that this decision isn’t made in a vacuum. Disney is already hurting a bit this summer due to box office returns for the animated Cars 2 being less than what they hoped for. Also the studio has two big budget films currently in production – Sam Raimi’s Oz, The Great And Powerful which is budgeted somewhere around $250 million and the pulp fantasy John Carter which recently had some reshoots that reportedly pushed its budget towards $300 million.
I would imagine that if the economic climate were better, this probably wouldn’t even be a story. But with revenue from DVD and blu-rays shrinking and audiences being a little pickier with the amount that they spend on entertainment, studios are hedging their bets more and more on big ticket projects like The Lone Ranger.