EXCLUSIVE: Walt Disney Studios’ long-awaited release of its adventure pic Jungle Cruise not only marks the first time we will have seen Dwayne Johnson on the big screen since Jumanji: The Next Level, it marks the first of three big-budget productions his production banner Seven Bucks Productions will unveil during the next year.
While every company across the industry had to face massive challenges — from production halts to delayed releases to even unloading their projects to rival studios — Seven Bucks was in the unique position of halting production on a film (Red Notice) and delaying and deciding what to do with a tentpole release (Jungle Cruise) before going into full-blown pre-production on Johnson’s first major comic book film (Black Adam). For Hiram Garcia, President of Production at Seven Bucks, while the challenge was daunting on how to handle the issues each project faced, he believed coming out of the pandemic only made them stronger as a company moving forward.
“We just learned a new level of efficiency on how we take on these projects,” Garcia tells Deadline. “The way the pandemic moved and continues to move, I learned how to keep options open, especially in how we are going to pivot when a curveball is thrown at us.”
These three projects weren’t just important to Seven Bucks because of their size and scope, they marked major milestones and potential franchise starters that could benefit the company for years to come. With Jungle Cruise, it marked another Disney attraction adapted into a feature that Disney entrusted them with, and all parties saw this as something that could replace the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise that had been so important to the studio over the years. Red Notice marks Johnson’s first time starring on a streamer property, and Netflix has been on record saying it was one of its biggest endeavors on the feature side. Finally, Black Adam, the project the banner had been developing the longest of the three, also would give Seven Bucks and Johnson their first comic book character, something the industry has been asking for years.
The three films were on track to start the company off on a hell of run to begin this decade, but like with so many things across the globe, Covid had other plans.
As cases began to rise drastically, especially in Italy, Garcia still remembers how the Red Notice production was set to shoot in the European country the following week — before plans began to change.
“Around that time, I will never forget we were at the halfway point of Red Notice and we were literally going to Italy the following week as cases started to pick up, and probably 72 hours later we had to pull the plug and pause production,” he said. “We tried to pivot, implementing a London plan, but soon realized that we had to stop completely.”
Garcia said that, like so many people around the globe, it took a minute for everyone to get
their bearings, and over the course of a week he and the rest of Seven Bucks crew realized this pandemic wasn’t going away anytime soon. Red Notice still had 60 days left of physical production left, and Garcia said all involved spent the next weeks and months figuring out how to finish the project at a high level while keeping everyone safe at the same time.
“A lot of the credit goes to our line producer David Householter, along with Dwayne, Dany (Garcia), Rawson (Thurber), Beau (Flynn), who was with me side by side while we figured this all out,” Garcia said. “We basically did our own version of the bubble in Atlanta, similar to what the NBA did in Orlando. We had a ton of hurdles to overcome like converting all these global shoots into stage work and the logistics of turning this into a bubble, which involved figuring out hotels and the set layout but at a hybrid level to what we were doing. Even small things, like people just sacrificing their daily lives over those 60 days. Usually a day of shooting ends and there are these opportunities like going out to dinner or drinks sometimes and recharging those batteries. For safety reasons, that shoot ends and everyone just heads back to their hotel room by themselves, which takes a toll.”
Even with all those obstacles to overcome, the shoot would restart in September 2020 and would finish those 60 days of filming, with no need to halt due to a positive Covid case. On top of getting this production back up and running, Garcia and the Seven Bucks team also were keeping an eye on their other event pic, Jungle Cruise, as it pushed its release along with a majority of the industry’s slate. The release schedule was its own maze to navigate across the industry as so many studios were making tough decisions on so many projects that included such drastic measures sending some to rival streaming services or putting them on their own.
Disney eventually would announce its plan to put its live-action adaptation of Mulan on Disney+ in its Premiere section, making some think the same could happen to other tentpole pics like Jungle Cruise. The studio eventually would announce plans for films including Jungle Cruise, Cruella and Black Widow to have a day-and-date release in theaters and Disney+, and Garcia said there was never the belief that the film wouldn’t make it to theaters.
“DJ was always open to releasing that movie wherever it was safe for audiences to watch it,” he said. “The attitude was to allow the viewer to choose how they wanted to watch it. It never came close to being released on just Disney+ without theatrical, and from the moment the pandemic started, we got great support from everyone at Disney.”
Garcia admits that some of his and the crew’s most trying times came in those final weeks of production in November, not necessarily because of the workload but the mental stress the pandemic and the state of the world was in. He specifically points out how tensions were so high at that time, especially when it came to political turmoil, and you could just feel the pressures as they were so close to finishing filming.
When production finally wrapped on Red Notice, Garcia notes how easy a transition it was when it came to one of Seven Bucks’ greatest endeavors in its history.
“When it came to Black Adam, all the work we did on Red Notice just made this such a smooth transition from shoot to shoot,” Garcia said. “It benefited it in a big way, especially when it came to the shoot. Because of the pandemic, we were suddenly on a tight schedule and everything was shot on a stage, but after the Red Notice shoot, everything went off without an issue.”
Black Adam finished shooting this month and now is on schedule to bow next summer, completing Seven Bucks’ year-long trek of wrapping up three tentpoles. Even after completing these three massive productions, Garcia and Seven Bucks now face something they aren’t use to — not having another tentpole production right around the corner after one shoot ends.
“We’re being very surgical about what [Johnson] is going to be able to do,” explains Garcia. “That whole back-to-back thing we will hold off on for now.”
Garcia notes that Johnson’s two massive press tours for Jungle Cruise now and Red Notice later this year that will take up plenty of time. He adds that he also is very hands-on as an co-founder and investor of products such as Zoa energy drink and Teremana tequila, which will keep him busy too.
As for that future slate at Seven Bucks, there are plenty of projects they are excited about, including their four-quadrant holiday action film Red One that Amazon Studios recently acquired, which not only will give Garcia a producing credit but his first story credit as well.
“We always wanted to do a holiday movie, but we needed the right tone that fit the company,” Garcia said. “Most of these holiday projects are on the smaller side, but I’ve had this idea for about seven years that I’ve tried to crack, and during the pandemic I fleshed out that universe. I wanted to do Hobbs-meets Miracle on 34th Street and, during some of that down time, took advantage of it. And I’m excited Amazon picked it up and think it’s something our fans will enjoy.”
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