GOOD MORNING: “You can never avoid gossip,” Renny Harlin said. “I’m so comfortable with only three weeks left to shoot.” It was 6:30 ayem in Phuket, Thailand, and he was setting out to sea to film aboard one of the three pirate ships built for “Cutthroat Island.” “Sure, we had some setbacks,” Harlin said. “Our director of photography broke his ankle, we had several illnesses, including me. I was down for three days — all insured. But we are right on schedule and on budget.” The figure for the budget has been exaggerated, he said , and the accurate number we’ve ascertained is between $ 60 and $ 65 million. Among those he thanks for keeping the movie on budget are Vic Armstrong, his stunt coordinator (“Indiana Jones”), and Allen Hall, his special effects topper (“Forrest Gump,””Backdraft,” etc.), plus an efficient cast and crew. MGM has the pic skedded for the big summer weekend start. “On July 4,” said Harlin, “we’ll come out with bells and whistles!” He promises it will be no problem meeting the MGM release date, reminding, “I wound ‘Die Hard II’ on April 5 and was out July 2. I have a luxury of time with this one”– even though they had to wait for a replacement to star opposite Geena Davis — Matthew Modine. Michael Douglas, you recall, had been set but then said the “Cutthroat” start and finale were too close to his other projects. So he departed. But Renny was ready. “I had 3,000 drawings planned out. We had costumes and props already made and the ships were built.” They are now shooting “simple” things on the waters off Thailand — aboard a pirate ship with a helicopter’d camera hovering above and a camera boat alongside. Harlin assures, “This is an area where our work is protected.” And he sez they’ve had none of the well-chronicled problems of “Waterworld.” The reason’s simple, Renny said, because they shot all their sea battles, etc., in the giant tank at Malta where movies including “Raise the Titanic,””The Vikings” and “Popeye” were filmed. They built two giant pirate ships for those scenes, both loaded with 80 operative cannons. They also used the tank to film storm sequences without worries about actual storms. Action scenes also were filmed on the land — including a unique carriage race on the streets of Malta.”I learned a few things from ‘Die Hard 2’ and ‘Cliffhanger,’ ” said Harlin –“but ‘Cliffhanger’ is like a student film compared to this one. And it’s also like comparing apples and oranges. This is a period picture and has a different kind of approach. And I don’t think I’ll ever do a movie like this again — unless — I do the sequel! This is so enormous in scope. The smartest thing I ever did was to go to the tank in Malta. All the complicated stuff was controlled. I can’t image doing it on the ocean where you can’t control waves, winds, currents. It would have been impossible.” There were 200 extras in some of the battle sequences. “How many boats would you need to bring them out to a sea location? And to anchor? And to bring them back and forth for meals, etc.? We were like a Hollywood soundstage in a tank — with the Mediterranean as our backdrop. I’ve been a sailor all my life and I know you can’t control the sea”… They film Phuket’s virgin beaches and bordering jungles for exteriors now being shot for the 1660-Caribbean-set epic. Harlin says digital effects will be utilized to meld Malta and Phuket.
“SHE’S A FEMALE JEAN-CLAUDE VAN DAMME — and she can act,” that’s how Renny Harlin describes wife Geena Davis, who stars as the pirate queen in “Cutthroat.” He says she trained a year for the physical, sword-wielding role and does “almost” all of her own stunts. “She is black and blue and bruised all over to prove it,” he said. But he also hastens to add that yes, there is plenty of romance, “Including lovemaking knee-deep in water of a sinking ship(!), also on the captain’s table(!),” etc. Still, Renny says the movie will definitely be PG- 13, a family movie. “I’m trying to do a ’40s Errol Flynn movie in the ’90s — action plus humor with a strong story”… Next movie for him is “The Long Kiss Goodnight” for New Line with Geena Davis again starring — the male lead is yet to be set. And they’ll shoot in N.Y. and Ohio, which should be as easy as shooting in a tank in Malta.