LONE RANGER Decision Time - Johnny Depp won't star without Gore Verbinski

I would not want to trade places with Rich Ross right now. Deadline reports that the Walt Disney Studios Chariman has to decide whether to make The Lone Ranger. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski have turned in a revised budget that is “in the $215M range”, which has been trimmed down from the $275M. This is not as low as the $200M that the studio had hoped to be at. 

If that was not enough, Johnny Depp - who is attached to play Tonto - will not star unless Verbinski is in the directors chair. Depp has starred in four films with Verbinski (3 Pirates Of The Caribbean films and Rango), so I guess this loyalty makes sense. When you are the biggest box office star in the world you can make these type of demands. I feel bad for Disney, because I have said from the beginning that both leads could be played by less costly up-and-coming actors and the film as a whole could be made for a lot less. That does not look to be the case, so Disney will have to decide to move forward with the new budget, Depp and Verbinski.

I really have a hard time in understanding why a film that began as a radio serial in 1933, then became a TV series has turned into a $215M budget blockbuster. I just don't see the need for all of that money when True Grit only cost $40M and was a big hit at the box office. Verbinski and Bruckheimer are just used to doing big budget movies. Verbinski has to agree on the budget number, and has said he “won’t take the budget down to a certain point where it’s not the same movie that he started out to make”. If the studio is too pushy then Verbinski and Depp would walk.

According to insiders, “this isn’t about a specific number we’re trying to hit. At this point it’s about the vision of the movie and what is the price for that vision.” Disney has said before that they would not make the film without Depp, but that was before they knew the actors Verbinski requirement.  Another issue is the films release dates, which once set are hard to change. An insider says, "shooting wasn’t starting for quite a few more weeks so Disney didn’t think a definitive answer was is necessary on that just yet. But it’s harder to get a good release date than it is to move it." The film was scheduled for a Dec. 21, 2012, release. This meant is would be up against the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which opens Dec. 14, and World War Z starring Brad Pitt, which was just slated for Dec. 21.

An insider put it best by saying, ”Spending $275 million on a Western no matter who the fuck it is starring in it means you’ve got to make so much money to get it back. And Gore Verbinski is notorious for budgets.” The film is a huge risk, because Westerns don’t traditionally  perform well internationally. In a DVD-collapsed world, a $275M film needs to gross 3 times its budget to earn out, and that can’t be done without a big foreign reward.

The stars and producers have even been discussing the possibility of reducing their big up-front paychecks for the film. which accounts for about $30 million or more. Adjusting the above-the-line salaries will not be enough to reduce the budget. Can Verbinski shoot a $215M budgeted film that will have the ability to attract both domestic and international audiences and have the possibility for sequels? I think that the studio should cut their losses and not move forward on the Lone Ranger. What are your thoughts?

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