Washington Square on October 31, 2006: the area is being set up for an evening shooting. In the background is the house Will Smith's character lives in.
The late 1990s brought a reemergence of the science fiction horror genre. In 1995, Warner Bros. began developing the film project, having owned the rights to Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I Am Legend since 1970 and The Omega Man. Mark Protosevich was hired to write the script after the studio was impressed with his spec script of The Cell. Protosevich's first draft took place in the year 2000 in San Francisco, California, and contained many similarities with the finished film, though the Darkseekers (called 'Hemocytes') were civilized to the point of the creatures in The Omega Man and Anna was a lone morphine addict; as well as the fact that there was a Hemocyte character named Christopher who joined forces with Neville. Warner Bros. immediately put the film on the fast track, attaching Neal H. Moritz as producer. Actors Tom Cruise, Michael Douglas, and Mel Gibson had been considered to star in the film, using a script by Protosevich and with Ridley Scott as director; however, by June 1997 the studio's preference was for actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. In July, Scott and Schwarzenegger finalized negotiations, with production slated to begin the coming September, using Houston as a stand-in for the film's setting of Los Angeles. Scott had Protosevich replaced by a screenwriter of his own choosing, John Logan, with whom he spent months of intensive work on a number of different drafts. The Scott/Logan version of I Am Legend was a mix of scifi action and psychological thriller, without dialogue in the first hour and with a sombre ending. The creatures in Logan's Legend were similar to the Darkseekers of the finished film in their animalistic, barbaric nature. The studio, fearing its lack of commercial appeal and merchandising potential, began to worry about the liberties they had given Scott â€“ then on a negative streak of box office disappointments â€“ and urged the production team to reconsider the lack of action in the screenplay. After an "esoteric" draft by writer Neal Jimenez, Warner Bros. reassigned Protosevich to the project, reluctantly working with Scott again. In December 1997, the project was called into question when the projected budget escalated to $108 million due to media and shareholder scrutiny of the studio in financing a big-budget
film. Scott rewrote the script in an attempt to reduce the film's budget by $20 million, but in March 1998, the studio canceled the project due to continued budgetary concerns, and quite possibly to the box office disappointment of Scott's last three films, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, White Squall, and G.I. Jane. Likewise, Schwarzenegger's recent films at the time (Eraser and Warner Bros. own Batman & Robin) underperformed, and the studio's latest experiences with big budget sci-fi movies Sphere and The Postman were negative as well. In August 1998, director Rob Bowman was attached to the project, with Protosevich hired to write a third all-new draft, far more action-oriented than his previous versions, but the director (who reportedly wished for Nicolas Cage to play the lead) moved on to direct Reign of Fire and the project did not get off the ground. In March 2002, Schwarzenegger became the producer of I Am Legend, commencing negotiations with Michael Bay to direct and Will Smith to star in the film. Bay and Smith were attracted to the project based on a redraft that would reduce its budget. However, the project was shelved due to Warner Bros. president, Alan F. Horn's dislike of the script. In 2004, Akiva Goldsman was asked by head of production Jeff Robinov to produce the film. In September 2005, director Francis Lawrence signed on to helm the project, with production slated to begin in 2006. Guillermo del Toro was originally approached to direct by Smith but turned it down in order to direct Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Lawrence, whose film Constantine was produced by Goldsman, was fascinated by empty urban environments. He said, "Something's always really excited me about that... to have experienced that much loss, to be without people or any kind of social interaction for that long." Goldsman took on the project as he admired the second I Am Legend film adaptation, The Omega Man. A rewrite was done to distance the project from the other zombie films inspired by the novel, as well as from the recently released 28 Days Later, although Goldsman was inspired by the scenes of a deserted London in the British horror film to create the scenes of a deserted New York City. A 40-page scene-by-scene outline of the film was developed by May 2006. When delays occurred on Smith's film Hancock, which was scheduled for 2007, it was proposed to switch the actor's films. This meant filming would have to begin in sixteen weeks: production was green lit, using Goldsman's script and the outline. Elements from Protosevich's script were introduced, while the crew consulted with experts on infectious diseases and solitary confinement. Rewrites continued throughout filming, because of Smith's improvisational skills and Lawrence's preference to keep various scenes silent. The director had watched Jane Campionâ€™s film The Piano with a low volume so as to not disturb his newborn son, and realized that silence could be very effective cinema. 
Casting Will Smith signed on to play Robert Neville in April 2006. He said he took on I Am Legend because he felt it could be like "Gladiator [or] Forrest Gumpâ€”these are movies with wonderful, audience-pleasing elements but also uncompromised artistic value. [This] always felt like it had those possibilities to me." The actor found Neville to be his toughest acting challenge since portraying Muhammad Ali in Ali (2001). He said that "when you're on your own, it is kind of hard to find conflict." The film's dark tone and exploration of whether Neville has gone insane during his isolation meant Smith had to restrain himself from falling into a humorous routine during takes. To prepare for his role, Smith visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Georgia. He also met with a person who had been in solitary confinement and a former prisoner of war. Smith compared Neville to Job, who lost his children, livelihood, and health. Like the Book of Job, I Am Legend studies the questions, "Can he find a reason to continue? Can he find the hope or desire to excel and advance in life? Or does the death of everything around him create imminent death for himself?" He also cited an influence in Tom Hanks' performance in Cast Away (2000).
Abbey and Kona, both three-year-old German Shepherd Dogs, played Neville's dog Sam. The rest of the supporting cast consists of Salli Richardson as Zoe, Robert's wife, and Alice Braga as a survivor named Anna. Willow Smith, Will Smith's daughter, makes her film debut as Marley, Neville's daughter. Emma Thompson has an uncredited role as Dr. Alice Krippin, who appears on television explaining her vaccine for cancer that mutates into the virus. Singer Mike Patton provided the guttural screams of the infected "hemocytes," and Dash Mihok provided the character animation for the infected "alpha male". There were several filler characters with uncredited roles in old news broadcasts and flashbacks, such as the unnamed President's voice (Pat Fraley), and the cast of The Today Show.
The Brooklyn Bridge, where a $5 million scene was filmed
Marcy Avenue Armory
Akiva Goldsman decided to move the story from Los Angeles to New York City to take advantage of locations that would more easily show emptiness. Goldsman explained, "L.A. looks empty at three o'clock in the afternoon, [but] New York is never empty . . . it was a much more interesting way of showing the windswept emptiness of the world." Warner Bros. initially rejected this idea because of the logistics, but Francis Lawrence was determined to shoot on location, to give the film a natural feel that would benefit from not shooting on soundstages. Lawrence went to the city with a camcorder, and filmed areas filled with crowds. Then, a special effects test was conducted to remove all those people. The test had a powerful effect on studio executives. Michael Tadross convinced authorities to close busy areas such as the Grand Central Terminal viaduct, several blocks of Fifth Avenue and
Washington Square Park. The film was shot primarily in the anamorphic format, with flashback scenes shot in Super 35. Filming began on September 23, 2006. The Marcy Avenue Armory in Williamsburg was used for the interior of Neville's home, while Greenwich Village was used for the exterior.  Other locations include the Tribeca section of Lower Manhattan, the aircraft carrier Intrepid, the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx and St. Patrick's Cathedral. Weeds were imported from Florida and were strewn across locations to make the city look like it had overgrown with them. The closure of major streets was controversial with New Yorkers. Will Smith said, "I don't think anyone's going to be able to do that in New York again anytime soon. People were not happy. That's the most middle fingers I've ever gotten in my career." A bridge scene was filmed for six consecutive nights in January on the Brooklyn Bridge to serve as a flashback scene in which New York's citizens evacuate the city. Shooting the scene consumed $5 million of the film's reported $150 million budget, which was likely the most expensive shot in the city to date. The scene, which had to meet requirements from 14 government agencies, involved 250 crew members and 1,000 extras, including 160 National Guard members. Also present were several Humvees, three Strykers, a 110-foot (34 m) cutter, a 41-foot (12 m) utility boat, and two 25-foot (7.6 m) Response Boat Small craft, as well as other vehicles including taxis, police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances. Filming concluded on March 31, 2007. CGI was used to depict the main spans of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge collapsing as missiles from over passing military jets blew them up to quarantine Manhattan island. Reshoots were conducted around November 2007. Lawrence noted, "We weren't seeing fully rendered shots until about a month ago. The movie starts to take on a whole other life. It's not until later that you can judge a movie as a whole and go, 'Huh, maybe we should shoot this little piece in the middle, or tweak this a little bit.' It just so happened that our re-shoots revolved around the end of the movie."
Effects A week into filming, Francis felt the infected (referred to as "Dark Seekers" or "hemocytes" in the script), who were being portrayed by actors wearing prosthetics, were not convincing. His decision to use computer-generated imagery (CGI) resulted in an increased budget and extended post-production, although the end results were not always well received. The concept behind the infected was that their adrenal glands were open all of the time and Lawrence explained, "They needed to have an abandon in their performance that you just can’t get out of people in the middle of the night when they’re barefoot. And their metabolisms are really spiked, so they’re constantly hyperventilating, which you can’t really get actors to do for a long time or they pass out." The actors remained on set to provide motion capture. "The film's producers and sound people wanted the creatures in the movie to sound somewhat human, but not the standard," so Mike Patton, lead singer of Faith No More, was engaged to provide the screams and howls of the infected. In addition, CGI was used for the lions and deer in the film, and to erase pedestrians in shots of New York. Workers visible in windows, spectators and moving cars in the distance were all removed. In his vision of an empty New York, Lawrence cited John Ford as his influence: "We didn't want to make an apocalyptic movie where the landscape felt apocalyptic. A lot of the movie takes place on a beautiful day. There's something magical about the empty city as opposed to dark and scary that was the ideal that the cast and crew wanted."
Alternate ending Several scenes were changed before the film's release, especially the stand-off between Neville and the infected in his laboratory. In the ending, the alpha male makes a butterfly-
shaped smear on the glass. Neville realizes that the alpha male is identifying the woman he was experimenting on by a butterfly tattoo, and the alpha male wants her back. Neville puts his gun down and returns the infected woman. Neville and the alpha male both stare each other down; Neville apologizes to the Darkseekers; the alpha male accepts his apology, and the infected leave. Shocked by the ordeal, Neville sits down for a moment in his laboratory. Looking over the pictures of his numerous test subjects, the implications of his research methods begin to dawn on him. The final shot follows Neville, Anna, and Ethan as they drive away towards the survivor's camp in Vermont with the antidote. According to visual effects supervisor Janek Sirrs: "At that point, Neville's â€” and the audience's â€” assumptions about the nature of these creatures are shown to be incorrect. We see that they have actually retained some of their humanity. There is a very important moment between the alpha male and Neville."
Inside 'I Am Legend' by Gerri Miller Browse the article Inside 'I Am Legend'
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Will Smith stars as Robert Neville in "I Am Legend." See more movie images. Barry Wetcher, SMPSP
Introduction to 'I Am Legend' Imagine the bustling chaos of New York City suddenly quiet, still and devoid of life -- save for a solitary man and his canine companion, walking down a desolate, overgrown Fifth Avenue. That unsettling vision sets the scene for the postapocalyptic future of "I Am Legend," in which a mutated virus originally developed to cure cancer has wiped out the planet. Dr. Robert Neville (Will Smith) is the last man standing, a virologist who searches for a cure by day and barricades himself against roving bands of infected, bloodthirsty zombies by night. "I Am Legend" is based on a 1954 novel of the same name by Richard Matheson. It was adapted in 1964 as "The Last Man Standing" with Vincent Price and again in 1971 as "The Omega Man," starring Charlton Heston. This latest incarnation was a monumental logistical and technical challenge for the filmmakers and a psychological one for Smith, who singlehandedly carries the film. In this article, we'll outline the process of bringing this $150 million-plus movie to the screen and hear firsthand from Smith, director Francis Lawrence and co-screenwriter Akiva Goldsman. The third remake of "I Am Legend" hit many roadblocks on the way to the multiplex. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ridley Scott were about to shoot it in 1997 when Warner Bros. balked at the $108 million budget. Tom Cruise, Michael Douglas and directors James Cameron and Guillermo del Toro were variously interested or attached, and Will Smith and Michael Bay nearly made an R-rated version in 2002, but the similarly themed "28 Days Later" stole that thunder. Three years later, Akiva Goldsman and Francis Lawrence, who worked together on "Constantine," revisited the idea as character-driven, PG-rated survival story and got a green
light from Warner Bros. Once Smith came aboard, they refined the concept, incorporating some elements from previous screenwriter Mark Protosevich. "That started in February 2005, and we started officially prepping in May 2006," says director Francis Lawrence. "We shot from September till the beginning of April. We were under-budget in production and we finished a couple days early." That seems almost miraculous in terms of what was required to make it happen. Next, we'll learn about the enormous undertaking of shooting on the "deserted" streets of Manhattan.
The bridge-destruction scenes are some of the few completely computer-generated shots in the movie. Barry Wetcher, SMPSP
Made in Manhattan Matheson's novella is set in Los Angeles, but the movie takes place in New York City, which Lawrence thought made a more strikingly empty location. He estimates that there are about 830 special-effects shots in the film, but he didn't want to rely completely on computer imaging to achieve the ghost-town effect. "I didn't want the city to look like a painting," he says. "When you shoot on blue screen and green screen all the time and everything is generated, it starts to look a little painterly." So Lawrence set about filming on the streets of Manhattan. As you might imagine, this roused the ire -- and raised the middle fingers -- of some inconvenienced Manhattanites. But for Will Smith, that was a small price to pay. "You just can't beat actually walking down the center of a New York street with an M-16," he says. "It really assists in the psychology of creating the character when you can actually be in the place and not on green screen or in Baltimore [standing in] for New York." The effects team did have to do some postproduction work to remove signs of life from the landscape, but, Lawrence says, "at the core you have a real place with real light and particles in the air, and it adds realism." Lawrence cleared out an area outside Grand Central Station, Fifth Avenue and Washington Square Park for a driving sequence. "The movie couldn't have been more fun or more of a headache at the same time," he says. "You have 200 production assistants hiding in doorways and around corners, and traffic cops blocking the street and it's a zoo, just to get a shot of a guy walking down the street with his dog." The destruction of bridges and Times Square, of course, were computer-generated -- the only exterior shots that weren't live. Other than the occasional uncooperative individual, Lawrence says, people accommodated the production -- and the elements obliged, too. "We got really lucky, weather-wise," he continues. "We had to shoot all the exteriors while there were leaves on the trees, and a lot of it we had to shoot weekends for traffic control. It was really precisely scheduled out. Had we
been rained out it we would have been screwed. But it only rained twice when we were shooting outside." Lawrence says he couldn't have made the movie without the cooperation of numerous city and government agencies, especially for a chaotic evacuation sequence. He spent five days directing Smith and 1,500 extras on a pier built on a barge under the Brooklyn Bridge. "It was a daunting idea to take that on," Lawrence admits. "That was a lot of cooperation from a lot of people -- the Coast Guard, the National Guard, the city, the police, the fire department. But the evacuation actually went pretty smoothly," he says.
The Daughter Also Rises Smith worked with his son Jaden in "The Pursuit of Happyness" and now co-stars with his 7year-old daughter, Willow, in "I Am Legend." Smith admits to a bit of sibling competition on Willow's part. "She just wants it, she has a drive, an energy, and she just connects to human emotion," says Smith. "She saw what Jaden did and she thought, 'I want that.'" The Smith children see showbiz differently, their dad reports: "Jaden is Johnny Depp. He just wants to do good work. He doesn't care what money he gets. He doesn't care if people see it or don't see it â€Ś Willow is Paris Hilton. Willow wants to be on TV."
Filming Challenges Lawrence says there was one filming snafu that was saved by Smith's positive attitude. "It was about 1 o'clock in the morning at the end of January and about 7 degrees, so everyone was freezing, and we were about to roll when the camera jammed. So Will grabbed the assistant director's mike and started singing his song 'Summertime' to the entire cast and crew, and everybody started singing along. That's the kind of guy he is. It was really special." Other tricky sequences were shot early in the process, including an aerial view of Smith hitting golf balls off an aircraft carrier and an opening sequence of Smith navigating the streets of the city. "It was a race to get all that exterior work done before the leaves were gone," says Lawrence. He had to spruce up the vegetation with real flora and CG work by Sony Imageworks, which also added computer-animated deer, fire effects and the rabid zombies. The zombies' movements were created on camera by actors in sensor-covered blue spandex motion-capture suits. Lawrence used armories in Brooklyn and the Bronx for some sequences -- the latter for Times Square and the former for the four-story brownstone housing Neville's fortified apartment and lab. Art aficionados will recognize famous paintings like Van Gogh's "The Starry Night" on the walls -- Neville takes them from museums. "They're not prints. They're actual paintings," says Lawrence. "Some of them already existed, and some we had done; there are artists that specialize in that." A replica of the Brooklyn pier was recreated on the soundstage for other scenes requiring green screen, such as one where Neville fights zombies, using his vehicle as a weapon. Smith did a good amount of the stunt work, Lawrence notes: "It's always better if you can put the actor in and you can see that it's him." Only a small portion of the footage shot ended up on screen. "We shot for a really long time, as is typical of a movie like this," comments Akiva Goldsman, also a producer on the film. "This kind of filmmaking is definitely more fluid because it's determined by what you end up rendering in terms of visual effects. You don't really have it until well into the editing process." While he'd never done a huge effects movie before, Lawrence found that his background in directing commercials and videos for the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Justin Timberlake, Aerosmith and Gwen Stefani served him well. "Having had the opportunity to play with all
the things that are out there and try different things and work in all kinds of environments helps make being on set, changing directions, being able to do different things spontaneously be second nature," he says. "It makes it easier for me to express what I want to express on camera."
Will Smith with a CG zombie in "I Am Legend" Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Training Day Of course, months of preparation went into the movie before a single frame was shot. "Will and I â€Ś went to the CDC and to the University of San Francisco and met some virus hunters to see what it's like to be a virologist and how they think," says Lawrence, who first met Smith when he directed the actor-rapper's "Black Suits Coming" video for "Men in Black II." Other expert sources, like a psychiatrist who deals with people in isolation and solitary confinement, helped them understand the psychology of a solitary existence. Smith and Goldsman also interviewed an ex-prisoner who'd spent time in solitary. "The one thing that was across the board was schedule," Smith says. "He would schedule things like cleaning [his] nails. That was the only way to maintain sanity." Working out was part of Neville's regimen, and thus Smith's. He lost 20 pounds and gained a six-pack by running five miles a day, six days a week. "What we determined from our research is that eating becomes just something that you do just because you have to," he says. "There's no pleasure, there's no real desire to eat. You just know that your brain won't function if you don't." Smith's onscreen internal monologues -- sometimes in the form of having a conversation with himself, his dog or a mannequin -- were more of a challenge. "It's a weird thing you have to do, but when you see it, it looks like there's a lot going on even though it's a dude sitting there with a dog," Smith says. "There aren't many actors that can pull off a one-man show," says Lawrence. "Part of it is just his charisma. Part of it is he's a really good actor. He's very precise with his choices, which is very important for this movie because there's so little dialogue." Smith relished the challenge, but can't imagine actually living in Neville's shoes. "As much as people get on your nerves on the freeway," he says, "as much as people irritate you in your daily life, if you took everyone away, it would be the most miserable existence that you could experience. There was absolutely no pleasure for me at all in experiencing that amount of loneliness and solitude."
But without giving too much away, in the end there is a ray of light to redeem the darkness. "It's a movie about hope and the struggle to find hope in the face of so much loss," Lawrence says. "It's a very simple, human idea." To learn more about "I Am Legend" and movie special effects, check out the links on the next page.
Training Day Directors often dread working with animals, but Lawrence was relieved to find that Abbey, the 2-year-old German shepherd that played Neville's companion Samantha, was a pro even though she'd never acted before. He recalls only one day that a backup had to fill in when Abbey didn't want to play fetch. "She was a rescue; she wasn't even a movie dog," he says. "The trainer only had a couple of months to work with her. But she was a great dog. She would do what we wanted her to do and her reactions were completely natural. She rarely gave us any problems."
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I Am Legend Will Smith
Will Smith, Francis Lawrence and Akiva Goldsman interviewed Nov. 30, 2007, in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Distribution & Exhibition http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0480249/companycredits
Studio Indies Part Two: Inside the Film Financing Business 30 SEP 2013 BY NEIL TURITZ
It might seem as if the studios have only just begun to farm out their projects to independent financiers, but they’ve been doing it for decades. Though the players, circumstances, and financials have all changed, the biggest difference may be that studios are up front about it in a way that they weren’t before.
Producer Greg Coote, former president and CEO of Village Roadshow Pictures, formed the first non-insurance-backed financing pact with Warner Bros., a partnership that produced The Matrix trilogy, the Ocean’s Eleven franchise, three Clint Eastwood films, Sherlock Holmes, I Am Legend, and dozens more. “Before I made the deal with [then Chairman] Terry Semel at Warner Bros. … all financing deals were insurance-backed. Ours was the first that wasn’t,” says Coote, whose new film fund Liriken Entertainment may or may not look for a studio home in the coming months. “Our partnership was eminently successful. They would come to us looking for financing, full or minority share. They [got] a licensing and distribution fee and we [got] our bit, and it eventually [went] into their library. It’s part of the deal.” So what qualifies as “our share” to an external financier or investor? It depends on the deal, obviously, and you’d be hard-pressed to get anyone to reveal details, but those involved certainly know what they’re getting into.
“A partnership really goes on until one of the partners decides they want to end it,” Coote says, and he should know; as Chairman of Dune Entertainment, he spent the
last three years working closely with 20th Century Fox before Dune’s parent company, Dune Capital, decided it had enough of the film financing business and closed up shop. This tends to be the norm, as studios often act like vampires, sucking partners dry until they either walk away from the deal or stop financing films altogether. Looking at the last three decades, a definite pattern emerges. First it was Japanese investors, then insurance companies came in and backed bank loans that led to enormous losses. A decade ago German film funds capitalized on tax incentives; currently its hedge funds and billionaires, but all you have to do is take a look at Dune Capital to see that even the hedge funders are starting to change tack. Because it’s the movie business though, there will always be plenty of investors lining up to be involved. They come for the glamour and for the possibility of spectacular success, but there’s another reason that can’t be ignored: the unique opportunity to be creatively involved with the process of making movies.
“The first thing we ask ourselves before getting involved in a project is, is this film interesting? Does it need to be made? Should it be in the cinema?,” says Tobin Armbrust, president of worldwide production and acquisitions at Exclusive Media, the financing company behind the recently-released Rush. When you look at the numbers, though, it’s enough to wonder why anyone would get involved with the financing of a studio production, especially with the list of former partners as long as it is. After all, while a studio might use an outside financier to cover the cost of production, they’re still spending money on prints and advertising and promotion. Those expenditures are recompensed fully before any investor sees a dime. Often, a domestic take will go entirely to the studio, meaning the financier needs to explore other avenues to see its investment returned. Enter foreign box office, which tends to give the kind of return a financier needs to stay in business. That’s the trade a studio makes to mitigate risk: keep the domestic take—the headline-making numbers that determine the success or failure of a film in the eyes of the masses—but surrender the foreign box office in exchange.
Take, for example, next year’s Interstellar. Christopher Nolan’s big-budget sci-fi flick is being co-financed by Warner Bros. and Paramount. Paramount is set to release Interstellar domestically next November, while Warner Bros. is taking it to the rest of the world. If you consider the success of Nolan’s last non-Batman project, Inception, that’s going to be a good deal for both sides, as Inception made close to $300 million at the domestic box office and over $580 million worldwide. But mutually-agreed upon successes of this magnitude are rare. More commonly, studios farm out financing to an outsider or share in the costs. Paramount has such an agreement with Skydance and
Warner Bros. had been co-financing films with Legendary Entertainment until this summer, when the company’s deal lapsed and they signed a new deal with Universal. “The thing is, it’s not just a mitigation of risk and a utilization of funds,” says Stuart Ford, CEO of IM Global, another high-profile finance and distribution company. These days, upwards of $30 million can be spent on publicity and advertising alone. So why would a studio bother making a $50 million movie, say the kind of “important” drama they used to make, when at least another $20 million is going to be spent trying to convince people to watch? With current economics being what they are, the cost is prohibitive, especially if the movie must make $140 million domestically to break even. Since exhibitors take 50 percent of ticket sales, a film must make twice that to break even. However, if a studio can find a co-financier, and manage to spend $20 million instead of $70 million, then a film only needs to break $40 million at the box office before things hit the black.
The economics have changed, so if there’s a way to mitigate risk, then the studios are going to do it. Why spend a hundred million bucks of your own money when you can get someone else to do it for you? An executive at a major production company, speaking on condition of anonymity, says, “It’s pretty simple. The economics have changed, so if there’s a way to mitigate risk, then the studios are going to do it. Why spend a hundred million bucks of your own money when you can get someone else to do it for you? … Who wouldn’t make that deal?” This is where companies like IM Global, Exclusive Media, and Skydance come in. But it’s not that they exist only to service the studios; in fact, far from it. “The important thing to do,” says Armbrust, “is to establish your[self] in the marketplace and what you do well. [Annapurna Pictures principal] Megan Ellison, for instance, works with talented directors who have made interesting, intellectually challenging projects.” Not all companies are so oriented, of course. Dune’s operations, for instance, were characterized more by the projects handed down by Fox than by choices made internally by Coote and his team.
“If a studio wants to make a movie, it’s going to make it,” he explains. “The question becomes, will you, as an investor, jump aboard? We had a pretty fabulous run with Tom Rothman and Jim Gianapoulus at Fox, and we relied on their decisions. We would look at the whole package, of course, but ultimately, you’re either with the studio or not … Generally speaking, they choose their projects well.” Now that Coote is starting his own shingle, will his attitude more closely resemble those of Armbrust and Ford, both of whom are intentional in choosing what kinds of projects they develop? “We tend to either put a package together ourselves and take it to the studio,” Ford says, “or we pick a project up out of turnaround … add talent, and take it back. Generally, if we get something from a particular studio, we’ll give them the first look, and they will often come back on board for distribution. It’s a win-win for us and for them. It fills out the studio’s slate and keeps the talent happy, as well.” “While it’s not required,” Armbrust says, “it is certainly in our best interests to work with the studio. That said, we’re going to make the movies we feel are right for us … We like to have a presence. If you’re an absentee landlord, just writing a check and buying your involvement, it’s going to end up leading to conflict.” Running a film fund with a direct tie to a studio can be dicey. One’s allegiance must be divided between two masters: your own company, whose finances you control, and the company that puts your projects into theaters. The trick is to pay heed to both, ideally making money for everyone, while also making a worthwhile film of which you can be proud.
“We really feel like we’ve established our calling card as one of quality,” Armbrust says. “Other companies focus more on sales, or on certain genres, but we really focus on quality. It’s not arrogance; it’s just how we’re oriented. It works for us.” While the game hasn’t changed that much, the players have, and this batch seem to be setting themselves up to be in it for the long haul.