Vidgame adaptation rumored to be too pricey

It’s game over for Universal’s and Fox’s participation in the feature adaptation of Microsoft’s “Halo.”

Both of the studios that agreed to co-finance the screen adaptation of the popular Microsoft game have abruptly backed out of the picture. While rumors had the studios concerned over a budget that was rising above the original projected $135 million pricetag, the filmmakers said the double defection came after U and Fox played hardball and unsuccessfully tried to get the filmmakers and Microsoft to reduce their profit participation.

The studios made the pay cut demand as a Oct. 15 deadline approached. On that day Microsoft was to have received the bulk of a promised $5 million upfront payday. Software giant also stood to receive 10% of gross for rights to the game and a script by Alex Garland.

Rumors of a budget that could approach $200 million raged Thursday, but Ken Kamins, who reps Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, vehemently denied that figure. The duo came aboard as exec producers, joining powerhouse producers Mary Parent, Scott Stuber and Peter Schlessel.

“The only budget the filmmakers every spoke about was $145 million less the 12.5% rebate that you get from shooting in New Zealand, which would put it at about $128 million,” Kamins said. “That was the only number that was ever discussed.

“What happened was this: Universal, on behalf of both studios, asked for a meeting with the filmmakers just prior to the due date of a significant payment. Basically, they said that in order to move forward with the film, the filmmakers had to significantly reduce their deals. They waited until the last minute to have this conversation. Peter and Fran, after speaking with their producing partners and with Microsoft and Bungie (the studio that designed the original game), respectfully declined.”

While the exit of two studios would seem to imperil “Halo,” Kamins said Microsoft is already in talks with other distribution partners. Prep work on the film continues, he said. One advantage is having Jackson and Walsh as exec producers: Most of the pre-production is being done at their visual effects studios in New Zealand, Weta Digital and Weta Workshop, so there will be no stoppage.

As word of the U and Fox exit spread, speculation centered around the inexperience of “Halo” helmer Neill Blomkamp, a 27-year-old first-time feature director.

“Everybody is supremely confident in Neal,” Kamins said. “Part of what excited Peter and Fran was Neal’s vision. We’re very confident this film will move forward with the creative partners intact, who will take the film to production.”

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