The decision by NBC Prods. to pull the plug on “Gaijin,” an eight-hour miniseries set in Japan, has sent shockwaves through the industry.
“It was NBC’s most ambitious overseas production ever, but it may as well have been called ‘How not to make a movie in Japan,'” said a shell-shocked production assistant who was packing up the hastily abandoned production office in Fukuyama, in western Japan.
Japanese film and TV production companies, meanwhile, are afraid that the “Gaijin” debacle may damage prospects for co-production with U.S. and other foreign majors.
With the costs mounting as the production pulls out of Japan, NBC looks likely to sustain around $20 million in losses. NBC’s Japanese partners, TV Tokyo and Mitsui Trading Co., will pick up some of the costs. The three companies formed Nippon NBC, a joint venture, primarily to license NBC product to Japanese TV stations.
But the bulk of the losses clearly lie with NBC, which alone took the decision to cancel the production on the fourth day of the 16-week shoot.
NBC cited foreign exchange losses on the investment when it dropped the bombshell March 3, as nearly 300 cast and crew were on a night shoot. The elaborate $4 million set, featuring a painstakingly detailed replica of a 17th-century port town, took months to build on a private beach rented for the purpose.
The production had many other problems, however. The recent surge of the yen and the fall of the dollar, which plummeted over 10 days from 104 yen to an all-time low of nearly 88 yen on March 7, merely tipped the scale, say sources involved with the production.
The rigid procedures and inefficiencies so common in the Japanese film industry bogged down the production from the early stages of pre-production last year, according to production personnel.
The production was saddled with about 130 Japanese crew, even though foreign production personnel estimated that only 30 to 40 Japanese personnel were required. “People were just sitting around on the set – most had absolutely nothing to do, but the Japanese side insisted we had to hire that many people,” said one production assistant.
The Jan. 17 earthquake in nearby Kobe was another unexpected factor, disrupting transportation networks and pushing up costs.
The original plan was for a 10-week shoot in Japan followed by a six-week shoot in Australia. “In fact, most of it could have been made in Australia in seven or eight weeks, at much cheaper cost, with three weeks maximum at the end in Japan,” the PA said.
NBC had hired Eric Bercovici, who wrote the script for “Gaijin,” to produce the miniseries. Bercovici was a close friend of Clavell’s and was involved in the dramatization of two of Clavell’s other epic novels, “Noble House” and “Shogun.”
Bercovici, who is said to be devastated by NBC’s decision, was still on location on the abandoned set late last week, but could not be reached for comment.
The only party smiling after the “Gaijin” fiasco are the directors of Miroku, the Fukuyama-based company that did a deal with Nippon NBC to take over the set after shooting and convert it into a historical theme park. Miroku will get its theme park months earlier than planned.