EXCLUSIVE: Ever since I scooped the news a week ago about G.I. Joe: Retaliation moving from June 29th to March 29th, 2013, no one was buying Paramount‘s excuse that “adding 3D” was the only reason for the 9 month delay. Least of all me. So I did some snooping. And what I found out shows the difficult decisions which Hollywood moguls are facing in this challenging box office environment when even franchises aren’t sure things. (Witness last weekend’s Men In Black 3.) And at what point and at what cost do the top execs make changes in their films already shooting or in post-production or even five weeks out from release in order to head off a disaster?
Hollywood was gobsmacked that Paramount vacated the primo date this summer, especially because the studio blew a wad on a Super Bowl commercial and already was starting TV and outdoor ads for GI Joe 2. Not to mention the toys, warehouses full of them ready and waiting, already on shelves. Or the big screen trailer attacjed this past weekend to MIB3. But the fact is that Paramount became extremely concerned about G.I. Joe 2‘s box office prospects worldwide after its test scores were mediocre to bad. Reshoots were needed. Plus, the moguls realized what a complete miscalculation it was to kill off Channing Tatum in the sequel. And even more so at the start of the film. You will remember that Tatum wasn’t a star when the first G.I. Joe was released. But since then his back-to-back successes in The Vow and 21 Jump Street have made him into a draw. And it turned out that the only bright spot for audiences as a result of the G.I. Joe 2 testing was the aborted relationship between Tatum and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Plus look at the movie poster for Retaliation: you wouldn’t even know Tatum is in the sequel. Now the movie is being reworked — and reshoots don’t lose a valuable leading man like Tatum by killing him off. “The 3D is an excuse as to not reveal the Tatum of it all,” one of my sources tells me. Of course this June Tatum appears in Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike as a stripper (inspired by Tatum’s own experiences, pre-stardom). My sources insist Paramount didn’t want uniformed Channing to compete with stripping Channing on the same weekend. Not with those abs.
Here is how Paramount insiders explain to me what happened. And clearly it’s not just because “We’re going to do a conscientious 3D job because we’ve seen how it can better box office internationally” now that Russia and China are building new 3D theaters by the week, as the studio said a week ago:
“This was a case of letting a schedule to fill a summer slot dictate the film not being in 3D even though we knew that would be the most commercial version of the film. Then in the spring there were 2 big events. First John Carter lost $200M despite the best efforts of the Pixar brain trust. But the 3D film managed to gross over $200M overseas, nearly tripling its U.S. take.
“Also Channing Tatum had a breakout spring, starring in The Vow and 21 Jump Street. In our first screening of the film the reaction from audiences was good but with 2 big concerns: 1) They didn’t like the fact that Channing and The Rock really didn’t have any time to develop a friendship before Channing died, and 2) Why wasn’t it going to be in 3D? We went back and shot another week with Channing to develop more of his story with The Rock, which made the film play much better. But we didn’t have the time to be in 3D.
“Then a week ago Battleship basically had the same performance as John Carter – $60M-$70M U.S. and just over $200M international. That was just a wake-up call that said to us we need to offer the best version of the film irrespective of summer market share to ensure the best possible performance. And not being in 3D will cost us a ton of business internationally.”
But the big question is how much this deliberate delay of G.I. Joe 2‘s release will affect the pic’s cost. After all, the cost of MIB3 soared when the time travel elements of Etan Cohen’s script had to be re-worked by Jeff Nathanson who needed more time to pull off the tricky plot device while Cohen worked on another project. So the film shut down for about six weeks, which is a rarity for a major tentpole, and then Cohen came back to finish the movie. That caused the cost to skyrocket from a range of $225M (which is what Sony claims as the budget) to $300M (which is what rival studios say it really was). Between that and all the gross profit participants, that’s a lot of coin before Sony sees profit. Of course, Paramount had to talk its partners on GI Joe 2 into the extra nine months of carrying costs – MGM, which has 25%, and David Ellison’s Skydance, which has another 25%. Paramount sources claim to me that the budget for the $125M-budgeted actioner is stll under control. I’m not sure I believe their claim that the changes will result in just $5M more:
“Several 3D houses had already approached us about doing the film in 3D. This move gives us the time to do it right. We are having conversations with Stereo D and Prime Focus about doing the 3D work for a reduced fee in exchange for a piece of 3D upside. Also, interest rates are very low right now. So 9 months does not have a huge impact on budget. It should stay under $130M.”
Meanwhile, other sources tell Deadline that G.I. Joe 2 director Jon M. Chu is “shellshocked” over the release date move. Paramount kept him on a very tight leash from the beginning of the production. Among other things, they wouldn’t let him bring onboard David Nicksay, who has worked with Chu as executive producer on the Step Up movies and the Justin Bieber documentary. Even The Rock felt forced to calm fan fears about the film like in this Twitter exchange on May 23rd when the delay announcement came down: DwayneJohnson
@TheRock It will be. Designing new scenes to enhance 3D. RT: @JimmyinGA: Was looking forward to GI Joe next month. Hope the 3D is worth the wait.
True, Paramount had luck delaying Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island to give the director his biggest box office hit ever. Now the question is whether lightning can strike twice.