EXCLUSIVE: Paramount Pictures has stopped the ticking clock and halted early pre-production of M:I6 Mission: Impossible. The studio won’t start up again until salary is worked out with franchise star Tom Cruise. The studio had hired between 15 to 20 people in London to start the soft prep work after writer/director Christopher McQuarrie and Cruise worked out the beats of the film, and McQuarrie went off to write the script. Those hired had just begun to work on the design of visual effects, and were told today to stop, we learned.

We’re hearing split versions for the reason: one scenario is that the studio is looking for Cruise and other producers including Bad Robot and Skydance to trim their fees. The other scenario is that Cruise wants Paramount to step up to the raise he got from Universal on The Mummy, and Paramount wants to pay him around what he got for the last film. So they’ve stopped the soft prep until they all find common ground. In the long term, this amounts to a hiccup, because there is no way Paramount doesn’t make this film and no way they would do it without Cruise, who receives an eight-figure upfront sum against break even back end. There isn’t even a heated rush here, because McQuarrie has just started writing the script that he and Cruise worked out and production won’t begin until January. But the studio, which co-finances the Mission: Impossible films with Skydance, didn’t want to lessen its leverage by staffing up and getting far into the prep process while these money issues were hanging precariously in the air, like Cruise’s Ethan Hunt character does in every one of these films. It likely won’t impact the overall delivery of the film, because production won’t begin for awhile and Cruise is off in London making The Mummy. Prep will resume when the dealmaking is done, informed sources told us. All of this back and forth is understandable; several of this summer’s tent poles got maligned by high budgets. Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation grossed $682 million worldwide on a reported $150 million budget, which is the way to do it. Nobody would comment.