Inside Move: ‘Wind’ chill factor

Lion feels pinch as Woo epic languishes

John Woo’s pyrotechnic, expenses-be-damned approach to filmmaking helped “Mission: Impossible 2” become the blockbuster of summer 2000.

But it could make his follow-up, the WWII epic “Windtalkers,” a thorn in the paw of MGM.

Fearing an uncertain market in the weeks ahead, the Lion last week bumped “Windtalkers” from November to June.

With a negative cost estimated at $120 million, it’s the most expensive pic MGM slotted for 2001. And with no corporate parent, the studio can’t easily cushion the blow of a pricey B.O. disaster.

That’s led studio chair Alex Yemenidjian and chief operating officer Chris McGurk to preach against profligacy. And they’ve stuck by their word, refusing requests for additional capital for “Windtalkers” production and post.

McGurk wouldn’t say whether the film has been on schedule or under budget, but the pic, which was still doing reshoots last month, “is just about locked and ready to go.” Thanks to foreign presales in territories like France and Japan, he says, it was always in the studio’s budget parameters.

Those parameters will now expand slightly, as the postponed tentpole accrues interest, other charges and new marketing costs — all of which will hit in 2002, a year in which the Lion has already slotted costly pics like “Hart’s War,” “Rollerball” and the next Bond pic.

The additional costs of “Windtalkers,” McGurk says, “are more than offset in releasing it in what we hope is a more stable marketing environment.”

But they’re also the risks of being in the John Woo business — a game that may just prove prohibitively expensive for a pure-play film company like MGM.

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