EXCLUSIVE: In an exclusive to Deadline’s Pete Hammond during Disney’s D23 Expo, Rich Ross made his first comment on The Lone Ranger since I revealed the film had been halted for budgetary reasons. “I’m hoping to do it. I’m certainly hoping. I think it’s a compelling story and no one wants to work with Jerry and Johnny more than me, so we’ll see how it works.” The surprise is that Ross mentioned Johnny Depp and producer Jerry Bruckheimer but not the film’s director Gore Verbinski. Would Disney be happier making The Lone Ranger without him?
The rumblings I’ve heard since my first story on the stoppage are as follows: Verbinski and Bruckheimer have been working hard to tone down or lose some of the budget-busting spectacular scenes in Justin Haythe’s script. At the same time, Bruckheimer as well as reps for Depp and Verbinski have been discussing ways to defer big chunks of their upfront paydays. Salary among all three likely accounts for $30 million or more. And if the trio’s backend deals weren’t at cash break before, they likely will be now if the film moves forward. Because simply adjusting above-the-line salaries isn’t enough to bring down what insiders told Deadline nine days ago was a $75 million budget gap to get to the $200 million Disney wants to spend on the Western. I’ve heard since that the studio will agree to make The Lone Ranger at $215 million. One major question is whether Verbinski can deliver at that number and retain enough spectacle “wow” factor to give The Lone Ranger a shot at a big overseas gross and sequels.
If Ross’s comments indicate that Disney would be open to making The Lone Ranger with another director, that is taking a big risk with Depp. Outside of Tim Burton, no director has made as many movies with Depp as Verbinski, with three Pirates of the Caribbean films and Rango. Would Depp continue in the movie if Verbinski was moved aside or quit? Good question. The Lone Ranger is a giant risk in the first place because Westerns don’t traditionally perform well overseas. In a DVD-collapsed world, a $275 million film is back to grossing three times its budget to earn out, and that can’t be done without a big overseas reward. Without Depp — arguably the biggest star in the world right now with three of the all-time Top 10 worldwide grossing films — there is no Lone Ranger. (more…)