Commentary on Movies and TV by Brian Holcomb

Friday, December 07, 2007


It must be an amazing thing to be able to think in terms of millions of dollars and even more amazing to not blink when tossing that kind of money around on a whim. Glenn F. Bunting's article in the LA TIMES today breaks down the budget of the huge commerical flop SAHARA starring Matthew McConaughey. Due to budget overruns, even though the film was number 1 at the box office on it's opening weekend and grossed $150 million on it's release it was still able to lose $105 million overall! Hollywood holds these budgets tight to their vest, but a legal dispute between Sahara author Clive Cussler and the producers has brought this one out in the open. McConaughey was the highest paid at 8 million dollars with $833,923 in "perks" whatever that means. (I remember reading once in Julia Phillips' book about how Close Encounters of the Third Kind had a budget marked for Richard Dreyfus and the staff's cocaine "perks" though I have no idea what these Sahara perks were for. ) Penelope Cruz got $1.6 million with $835,561 in perks while third billed Steve Zaughn took home more regular than "perk" money with a $2.2 million salary and $264,153 in perks.(It's funny but women seem to be "underpaid" in Hollywood as well.) Oh, McConaughey's production company was also paid $250,000 for his role as "Executive Producer".

-An elaborate plane crash was apparently filmed and cut out of the final movie at the cost of $2.2 million!
-Part of the budget were also marked for "local bribes" in the Kingdom of Morocco where much of the film was shot.
-Ten screenwriters(including The Sting Academy Award winner David S. Ward for $500,00) were paid more than 3 million dollars to cook up the script. And promotional "partners" began to control the screenwriting process as well. From the article:

... with "Sahara," some creative decisions apparently took promotional considerations into account. For example, producer Karen Baldwin demanded script changes to accommodate DaimlerChrysler because the German-American carmaker negotiated to have its Jeep trucks featured in the film. "You can't have the truck get almost stuck," Baldwin wrote in a March 2004 e-mail to "Sahara" executives. "I would bet that Jeep will have a heart attack when they see that. They want to show how well the Jeep handles and responds — not that it will get stuck in a tough situation."

Four months earlier, when director Breck Eisner expressed concern during development of the film about problems with another sequence involving a four-wheel-drive truck, Baldwin wrote in a memo, "Can't cut it. Jeep to pay 3 million."

Ha! "Jeep to pay 3 million". But honestly, I guess if Jeep gave ME 3 million I'd also find a way to get a friggin' Jeep into my story and make it look cool. Not that Jeep would give me 3 dollars.

One disturbing item shows how a film which leaks money like a sieve, still has the forethought to screw local workers: a Moroccan "assistant propman" was paid the sum of $233.00 per week on a production with millions flying in all directions. I wonder if he got $2.31 in perks?

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