‘Pearl’ Jam / A big-spending director gets the green light from frugal Disney

Posted on Nov 24, 1999

Michael is featured in an article on the Hollywood Reporter chosing him as “Person of the Week.” Before reading it, I would like to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to you all. Take care.

‘Pearl’ Jam / A big-spending director gets the green light from frugal Disney

By Stephen Galloway

No one has ever accused Michael Bay of lacking chutzpah. But when the thirtysomething director’s new movie, tentatively titled “Pearl Harbor,” got the green light last week, a great many pundits had their breath taken away.

The reason: “Pearl” is going into production with an officially sanctioned $145 million budget. That’s $10 million more than Bay’s last flick, “Armageddon,” hitherto the costliest movie ever to be greenlit.

True, other films have cost more. “Titanic” springs to mind, at $200 million-plus. And let’s not forget “Waterworld” and “Wild Wild West” and “Lethal Weapon 4” and … the list goes on.

But the difference between these pictures and “Pearl Harbor” was that they ended up costing so much; at the time they were initiated, their budgets were just a fraction of their final cost. Indeed, “Titanic” was expected to sail in at around $90 million-$100 million, until a few minor seafaring snafus got in the way.

“Pearl Harbor” is an anomaly at a time when Hollywood has been struggling to cut costs. Other major movies, from the Arnold Schwarzenegger starrer “I Am Legend” to the Robin Williams vehicle “Bicentennial Man,” have been killed or were put on temporary hold because their budgets topped the now-verboten $100 million mark.

And Disney, in particular, has been budget-conscious since its struggling stock price led company chairman Michael Eisner to mandate widespread cuts and a hiring freeze.

But maybe that cost-cutting is about to start loosening up. Disney has been flush with one of the best boxoffice runs in motion picture history. After halving the number of films it makes, down to around 15 live actioners a year, it has continued to ride a boxoffice tsunami, emphasizing a deft mix of family films and “event” releases. This year it will easily cruise in at No. 1. And, with the “Pearl Harbor” project, it is betting on two proven commodities: the blockbustering Jerry Bruckheimer and his occasional stablemate Bay, who together have hit home runs not only with “Armageddon” but also with “The Rock.”

Hollywood can afford to take a few risks. Still, future greenlighters may also remember the lessons 20th Century Fox has learned. In the wake of “Titanic,” budgets have been slashed at the studio. And if Bay had gone ahead and made his next picture for Fox, as planned, it wouldn’t have been the $145 million “Pearl Harbor” but an altogether more modest affair: the $10 million “Phone Booth.”