The latest stories off the set of the big, bloated “Men in Black III” project suggest a runaway production — from script problems to an oversized budget to movie-star behavior to a shooting schedule from hell.
Insiders close to the Sony sequel dispute this. But they agree that the tension on the New York set has ratcheted up of late as the film heads toward the end of principal shooting.
Star Will Smith headed back to L.A. last week for two days, setting off more reports of production problems. (It’s not clear there were any.)
But more static has arisen with the filming of chase scenes that have shut down portions of streets around New York City, diverting traffic and generally pissing off the local populace.
Meanwhile, Smith has been throwing his weight around, leading to leaks off the set about demanding behavior — ordering that a set be torn down because "it wasn't right," and that another set be rebuilt to accommodate his improvisations, TheWrap has learned.
“It’s a big, expensive movie in New York City,” said an individual involved in the production. “The last three, four weeks are a lot of chase scenes, so a lot of this gets magnified.”
And, he acknowledged, all has not been wine and roses with the movie's big star lately.
“There is a little bit of a thing going on” with Smith, he said.
Which won’t surprise anyone.
In May, tabloids had a feeding frenzy over star Smith’s oversized star trailer and gym.
The trailer was a $9,000-a-month, 53-foot behemoth — longer than a city bus — that the New York Post derided as “starship-sized.”
The Post wrote that “the monstrosity was choking business revenues and filling the streets with exhaust fumes. … Now the ‘I Am Legend’ actor will have to trek to the trailer to get his makeup done, confer with his personal writers and lounge in his marble-floored, 100-inch-screen film room – or walk less than a mile to his own $25,000-a-month Bond Street apartment.”
The actor also had a set rebuilt in order to accommodate an improvised scene he filmed, according to two people involved in the production.
The scene involved a telephone call between Smith’s character, Agent J and Tommy Lee Jones’s character, Agent K. Some time after Jones filmed his portion of the call, it was Smith’s turn. But Smith improvised quite a bit, and his part of the conversation no longer matched Jones’s.
Smith told producers he wanted to see Jones on camera responding to the new material — a request that required the crew to rebuild the set, or at least a few walls of it — so Jones could film there again.
On another occasion, early in the filming, Smith had the crew tear down a nearly completed set at Kaufman Astoria Studios because it "wasn't right," a person with knowledge of the project told TheWrap.
The individual also said that Smith had a list of more than a dozen people who were on his "must hires" list, including bodyguards and members of his personal entourage.
"It seems like he has a really big footprint," that person said.
Sony strongly denies that any sets were rebuilt at Smith's request. And an individual close to the production points out that must-hire lists are not unique to Smith — many stars use many of the same people on their productions.
“Men in Black III” has been a slog from the start; Production was broken into two shooting segments and filmed in two separate calendar years (starting in November of last year) to take advantage of tax rebates in Manhattan. The unorthodox schedule was also meant to allow for work on the script.
It certainly didn't make the film less expensive.
A reliable individual told TheWrap that the movie will net out at a cost of about $215 million, after allowing for all the tax rebates. That’s nearly twice the cost of "Men in Black II."
Sony would not confirm the budget figure.
The tax breaks — New York rebates 30 percent of production costs incurred in the state — are vital for the film. Producers needed to start shooting in 2010 in order to qualify.
It seemed like a struggle to get that done.
Clearly, Sony wants to recreate the magic it found in the 1997 “Men in Black,” which had a budget estimated at $90 million and grossed $589 million worldwide. Or the second, 2002’s “Men in Black II,” which grossed $442 million on a $140 million budget.
The studio brought back Smith, Jones and director Barry Sonnenfeld in a complicated time-travel tale.
The movie was supposed to begin shooting in October. It actually started shooting in November — and stopped around Christmas. Filmmakers announced that they’d start shooting again in mid-February.
Also Read: 'Men In Black 3' Delayed Again
Mid-February turned into March, which turned into April.
During the hiatus, filmmakers polished the script.
Sony has tackled other big projects with correspondingly big budgets (and correspondingly big problems) that turned into big successes.
The 2007 film “Spider-Man 3” had a budget estimated at $258 million. It grossed a hefty $885 million worldwide, but afterward, the studio was convinced that the franchise needed to be rebooted.
Sony has maintained that "MiB III" production is chugging along. One thing that hasn't changed: Its May 25 release date next year.