Screenwriter Terry Rossio returns fire at LA Times’ PIRATES 4 budget cut article

PIRATES 4 co-writer Terry RossioIf the recent Los Angeles Times interview article fired a shot across the bow of PIRATES 4 production reporting on the film’s supposed budget cuts, then today the franchise’s co-screenwriter Terry Rossio returned a volley of verbal denial at the article’s alleged inaccuracy.

Rossio asserts that the production team looked upon the Times’ article as a “source of much amusement,” insisting the piece was written with a slant to overhype any film production’s usual budget-saving efforts and that the results were “a complete non-story” more about spin than facts.

FilmEdge certainly has more interest in the PIRATES story than studio budget politics, but we’re glad to give Rossio and his co-writer Ted Elliott equal time on the subject. To recap, the LA Times article reported that Disney studio Chairman Rich Ross is mandating budget trimming on all film projects including the costly-yet-lucrative PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise, and this led to restrictions on location filming (reducing the sites to only London and Hawaii) and numerous scene cuts based solely on projected expenses (like the referenced carriage chase and an “ice fair”).

Co-writer on all four PIRATES films Terry Rossio denies such allegations, explaining that any budget-trimming discussions are not aimed solely at the swashbuckling sequel and are indeed part of every film’s pre-production stage. Here are Rossio’s complete comments as posted on the Wordplay Forum, a blog discussion group for screenwriters that Rossio and scripting partner Elliot both run:

This is a great example of entertainment reporting, and has been the source of much amusement around the production offices.

Here’s what really happened. An LA Times reporter decided (ahead of any facts) to write a story about cutbacks on summer movies, Pirates in particular. He then managed to get a general interview or two. In the course of the interview, like any responsible studio or producer, people maintained they were trying to get the best movie possible at a reasonable price. Imagine that.

The reporter then had just enough credibility to write a story with a slant.

No need for the facts to get in the way. My guess is the budget on P4 will be higher than P1, in the realm of P2, and lower than P3. (And the difference there has more to do with the difficulty of shooting two movies, deadlines, hurricanes, tank issues, multiple star salaries, and myriad other details.) Hard to even tell, as the budget on P4 contains various tax deferments, and the decision has still not been made to shoot in 3D. Actually, the budget on P4 isn’t even set yet, so really, there is nothing to report.

The truth is, the studio and everyone involved fought just as hard to lower the budgets of P1, P2, and P3 as they are on P4. Nothing has changed. Are there budget meetings on P4 to look for ways to get the most for the money? Of course. Same as on every film. It’s a complete non-story. But now the ‘spin’ is out there, sure to be repeated.

Certain points raised by Rossio are worth noting: comparing budgets (projected or final) from one film to another across a seven year span (from PIRATES 1 to 4) isn’t exactly an accurate yardstick for measuring true costs side-by-side since a multitude of economic factors can change even the value of a dollar from year to year. CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL’s reported $140Million budget can’t buy the exact same film production it would in 2010, and so on. Also studio money spent in one country or economy cannot compare in value to another region in the world dollar for dollar either: making the exact same film in Hawaii instead of the Caribbean can cost millions less or more due to a myriad of factors entirely unrelated to filmmaking, in addition to those with precise bearing on production costs. In short, the complex equations which go into any film’s production budget (funding factors plus cost expenditures) are highly specific to each given film made in its own time and on its own terms — beyond such narrow parameters, one-to-one comparisons even within the same franchise are utterly academic by nature and proof of almost nothing in their results.

FilmEdge joins others reporting this same story tonight in their confusion by Rossio’s comment that the budget for ON STRANGER TIDES is not even set yet, considering that actual production is slated to begin in June — while a final final budget amount may not be inked today, certainly a film requiring such a lengthy pre-production term and a production schedule mapped ahead must by now have a general ballpark figure as its current budget estimate. So that figure can’t be a true unknown by this late date, even if the filmmakers and studio are not announcing it in public. We’re also surprised to hear that apparently the decision to film (or not) in 3D hasn’t been made already, though we’d certainly make the educated guess that alternate budgets have been made accordingly for comparison while finalizing the finances.

We can’t attest to the slanted angle of the Times story that Rossio addresses because only an insider like himself would have the knowledge and facts from the inside to dispute it directly. But what generalized comments he made in his blog post sound quite reasonable to us, as indeed all studio heads are no doubt on fiscal missions to save on production costs in any and every way possible in every project on their schedule, and Disney is no different. That trend is indeed a non-story in today’s tightened-if-improving economy.

We notice that Rossio didn’t address any of the story points or scene concepts reported in the Times article, but aside from flat denials his non-comment is fully expected: if the reports were accurate on story points, likely Rossio wouldn’t confirm them publicly. Given Rossio’s disputing of the Times reporting in terms of budget cuts, FilmEdge urges all our readers to regard those potential story spoilers with a skeptical grain of salt until further confirmation from reliable sources can be gained.

Meanwhile this site is glad to report Rossio’s comments in full counterpoint to our earlier story on the subject in case quotes we took directly from the LA Times report prove to be inaccurate or biased in the future. Our thanks to and The Playlist Nation blog for providing the link chain back to the Wordplay Forum and Rossio’s rebuttal comments.

One thought on “Screenwriter Terry Rossio returns fire at LA Times’ PIRATES 4 budget cut article

  1. Pingback: PIRATES 4 confirmed to film in 3D this summer | Blog

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