A high-profile movie with a massive budget has run into pretty big problems, which means it’s time for Kim Masters to swoop in and do her thing. (Troubled would-be blockbusters are like the Masters Bat-Signal; she’s not the journalist they deserve, but she’s the journalist they need, etc.)
The backstory: “World War Z” is a zombie novel by Max Brooks and it’s told as an oral history and so the studio decided they had no choice, they simply had to spend $170 million dollars turning it into this big popcorn movie starring Brad Pitt (a movie they hope is the first in a trilogy, because studios always hope movies are the first in a trilogy).
Things are not going well. The movie, originally scheduled to come out this December, was pushed to next year. There were reports of major problems necessitting lots of reshoots. And just last week, word leaked that Damon Lindelof was being brought on to rewrite the script — specifically focusing on the third act. This is already a bad sign, having someone come in and rewrite the end of your script, but it is particularly fraught because they decided to bring in Damon Lindelof to fix the movie’s third act. (If you are not familiar with Lindelof’s work — “Lost,” “Prometheus” — he is rather infamous for being terrible at ending things. Hiring him to fix the third act is like deciding to fix a scratch on your car by setting the car on fire and driving it into a ravine.)
Where did it all go wrong? Masters’s story points a few fingers. The biggest digit aims at Marc Forster, the acclaimed director of “Monster’s Ball” and the not-so-acclaimed director of “Quantum of Solace,” and if you noticed that the first movie was small-budgeted character piece and the second movie was a big-budgeted mess, congratulations, you have already figured out one of this movie’s big problems. Forster is not used to this type of movie, and according to the story, this created a lack of clear direction (high-profile crew members were brought on to help him, which resulted in a production without clear leadership).
There are also other factors. Forster is an easy target because he only has one big-budget movie on his resume, so he fits with the narrative of “largely untested directors struggling to handle blockbuster movies.” This storyline was established by flops (“John Carter”) and delayed, troubled productions (“47 Ronin,” “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”), as Masters’s story points out. But citing “John Carter” (directed by Pixar’s Andrew Stanton, making his live-action debut) ignores “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” (directed by Pixar’s Brad Bird, making his live-action debut). Untested directors making their first or second big-budget movies will sometimes falter, but they will also sometimes deliver “Batman Begins” or “Lord of the Rings” or the first “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
More likely, the bigger issues are the less-attractive-but-common ones she cites: This was a big movie greenlit and rushed into production before the script was ready. It was hurried to a release date before it was ready, and as a result things were rushed. (One example: the second-unit director wanted 60 days for second-unit shooting, but the studio only gave him a third of that.)
The movie itself could end up being fine, of course. Masters quotes someone who says the first chunk of the movie is pretty solid (though spending $170 million on a great first hour is…not the best business strategy). This entire debacle isn’t promising, but plenty of movies have to suffer reshoots and behind-the-scenes turmoil. “World War Z” just happens to be one of those high-profile, costly, highly-troubled productions about which we hear. Read Masters’s story for more.