I’ve been inundated with questions about Oliver Stone’s W. biopic which is opening Friday. Some answers here:
How much money will it make?
According to MovieTickets.com, 5,079 people responded to its poll, “Do you plan to see the film W. – a movie about the life and presidency of George W. Bush?” No (63%). Yes (37%). And Fandango online ticketseller found that 60% of its respondents wanted to see W. only because of the controversy surrounding the film. In any case, Hollywood never bets the farm on political fiction pics because they usually don’t attract crowds at the box office. Small budget Wag The Dog and Bullworth receved a lot of attention but not a lot of business. Studio pic Primary Colors disappointed. Stone’s own JFK was wildly successful, but his Nixon underperformed. Of course, none of these pics were about a sitting U.S. president. Even though Stone’s pic is opening Friday in wide release at 2,100+ North American theaters, Hollywood box office analysts are all over the map, telling me they expect anywere from a low of $5 million to a high of $12 million for the weekend. The movie’s production company is hoping for at least a $10 million debut. Yet the negative cost of the movie is $30M mil, plus an outlay of $25M in marketing costs for a surprisingly aggressive TV ad campaign. Lionsgate, which is distributing the movie in North America and some foreign territories, are the same folks who released Michael Moore’s self-described documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 which cost only $6 million and made on its opening June 2004 weekend nearly $24M from just 868 theaters. It went on to earn $119M gross domestically and $103M from international territories for a worldwide total of $222M. So, clearly, W is not even in the same ballpark.
Why is the movie being released right before the November election?
I’ve learned that, despite what he may say publicly, it was always Oliver Stone’s intent to show the pic before George W. Bush left office. Stone has even blamed some of his investors for pushing for the pic to be released before the election. Insiders tell me that the “thought process” surrounding the release date looked at every possibility — October, November, December, and January right up until the new president’s inauguration when Dubya leaves office. But three weeks before Nov. 4th “was deemed the time of maximum interest,” a source confided. “The political course of the country would be foremost in people’s minds. And this movie could be part of that dialogue. So we decided that the timing would be best served now.” It’s interesting how liberals worry that the movie may make pro-Bush forces angrier and thus help McCain’s chances at the poll. And conservatives worry that the movie will muddy Bush’s legacy and thus help Obama’s chances at the poll.
How accurate is the movie about George W Bush’s life and presidency?
Stone is telling the press that Stanley Weiser’s script based the movie primarily on materials in the public domain. But that only means that Stone, who’s notoriously cavalier about using exclusively reported material from books and then claiming it’s all public domain, didn’t bother to buy the movie rights from any of the non-fiction authors (which would have been the incredibly expensive but also legally proper thing to do). Production insiders tell me that the key sources for the screenplay and film were all these books: Plan of Attack, Bush at War, and State of Denial by Washington Post investigative journalist Bob Woodward; The Price of Loyalty and The One Percent Doctrine by the former senior national affairs writer for the Wall Street Journal, Ron Suskind; The Family: The Real Story Of The Bush Dynasty by the queen of the unauthorized celebrity biography Kitty Kelley; Fortunate Son by paroled felon J.H. Hatfield (the book was eventually recalled by its first publisher and the author committed suicide); The Faith of George W. Bush by former Washington Post feature writer and biographer Stephen Mansfield; Oil, Power and Empire by the long-time correspondent for the Revolutionary Worker communist newspaper Larry Everest; First Son by Texas journalist and University Of Texas journalism professor Bill Minutaglio; A Charge to Keep written under George W. Bush’s name by ghostwriter Michael Herskowitz; State of War by New York Times intelligence beat reporter James Risen; Hubris by liberal The Nation columnist David Corn and Newsweek correspondent Michael Isikoff; and The Greatest Story Ever Sold by New York Times liberal columnist Frank Rich.
Did Barbara Streisand have anything to do with the casting of her husband’s son, Josh Brolin?
Is the People’s Republic Of China really an investor in the motion picture?
Karl Rove recently criticized W. as being financed by “suspect Chinese investors”. The truth is that the film’s U.S. producer QED International found financing and marketing money from companies in Switzerland, France, Germany, Australia, and Hong Kong as well as the United States. (For instance, the state and cities of Louisiana gave the film deep tax rebates and hefty financial incentives to shoot there.) But what Rove seems to be referring to is the involvement of the flamboyant and controversial Hong Kong businessman Albert Yeung Sau Shing. He began his Emperor Entertainment Group in 1986, well before Hong Kong transferred to the People’s Republic Of China in 1997. EEG was incorporated in 1999 and listed on the GEM of The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong in December 2000. The Group is principally engaged in music production and distribution, artist management and event production, and its Emperor Motion Picture Group is mainly engaged in film and television production and distribution, and has a joint movie venture with Jackie Chan among other Hong Kong film stars. I’m told that Emperor paid less than $5 million for W. but that also included payment for the distribution rights for China, Hong Kong and Macau. “I’ve always admired Oliver Stone’s work. I’m very excited to work with him this time,” Yeung was quoted as saying at the time of his W. investment.
It’s certainly correct to say that Yeung is a “suspect” character since he has been the target of several investigations by Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption for his alleged connections to Asian organized crime. He also has been arrested, jailed, involved in a series of high-profile court cases spanning a 20-year period, but also cleared of crimes. Yeung himself has said all these charges stem from enemies “jealous” over his business success. But Yeung’s actual ties to the People’s Republic Of China are said to be no more and no less than those of most successful Hong Kong businessmen straddling the communist and capitalist worlds where they do business. So it seems ridiculous for anyone to seize on some Oliver Stone-worthy conspiracy theory that the communist government there is out to “get” GWB through this movie. Besides, as America’s envoy to the People’s Republic during the Ford administration, Dubya’s father George H.W. Bush played a major role in encouraging better relations between Beijing and Washington DC. And under George W. Bush, U.S.-China relations have been mostly friendly, and criticism over human rights mostly restrained.