Production hassles ruffle ‘Eagle’ shoot

Rival project, lead actor in hot water during shoot

What are the odds that two films released less than a year apart would both center on an obscure event said to have occurred in the 2nd century A.D.?

“Centurion,” helmed by Neil Marshall, debuted last year. It told the story of the presumed massacre of Rome’s Ninth Legion by Pict tribes in the Scottish Highlands.

Unintended sequel “The Eagle,” directed by Kevin Macdonald and skedded for release on Feb. 11, takes place 20 years later. It follows the son of the Ninth’s vanished commander, played by Channing Tatum, who travels to Scotland to solve the mystery of the legion’s disappearance, restore his father’s honor and return to Rome the legion’s carved eagle emblem.

As a kid in Scotland, Macdonald was transfixed by Rosemary Sutcliff’s children’s novel “The Eagle of the Ninth.” A few years ago, he persuaded producer Duncan Kenworthy, who held the rights, to film the story and collaborated on the script with Jeremy Brock, who had penned Macdonald’s “The Last King of Scotland.”

The project was interrupted when Macdonald helmed “State of Play.” “When I came back to ‘Eagle,’ ‘Centurion’ was about to happen,” he said. “It was one of those unfortunate situations.”

The filmmakers went ahead anyway. With support from Focus Features, they produced “Eagle” for $24 million, keeping costs under control by filming many scenes in Hungary, where “there are good tax breaks, skilled craftspeople and we could build a Roman fort in real countryside yet only 40 minutes from Budapest,” Macdonald said.

The Highland scenes were filmed in Scotland and — in what must be a first — the production imported much of its Hungarian crew, including stuntmen and builders who created a tribal village on a wild stretch of coastline during winter. “You’ve never seen a more shocked bunch of people,” said Macdonald. “They couldn’t believe the wind, the rain and the discomfort of it all.”

D.p. Anthony Dod Mantle shot on 35mm. “We considered digital,” said Macdonald, “but I wanted that feel of film grain. It’s harder to give the ancient world a sense of mystery if everything is HD and super-sharp.” Also, Macdonald stayed away from “the CGI-heavy swords-and-sandals look. I wanted a past that feels like it could actually have existed.”

Rain scenes were shot in the rain, and a chase sequence where Tatum and co-star Jamie Bell elude pursuers by hiding in a frigid rushing stream was shot on location — with assistants dousing the actors with warm water between takes.

Two days into that portion of the shoot, “a less-than-attentive AD accidentally poured boiling water down Channing’s front,” said Macdonald. “I heard him screaming and cursing. The water had gathered around his private parts and given him terrible burns. He had to take some time off.”

The crew shot without the injured actor for a few days. When Tatum returned “he was in agony, but he’s a never-say-die guy and did all his own fights. He regained his sense of humor and was soon showing everyone iPhone photos of his burnt wiener.”

Bookings & Signings

Innovative Artists has signed production designer Gary Frutkoff (“The Experiment”), costume designer Genevieve Tyrrell (“You Again”) and stunt coordinator Steve Griffin (“Gun”). Agency has booked producer Steve Brown on Starz’s “The Magic City”; and d.p.’s Checco Varese on Patricia Riggen’s “Ansiedad,” Levie Isaacks on Alex Zamm’s “Tooth Fairy 2,” Denny Hall on USA Network pilot “Common Law,” Sid Sidell on Fox’s “Bones” spinoff pilot, John Thomas on Showtime’s “The Big C,” Harlan Bosmajian on USA pilot “Eden” and David Hennings on Fox’s “Breaking In.”

Other I/A bookings: production designers Victoria Paul on Fox’s “Bones” spinoff pilot, Lauren Crasco on TNT’s “Memphis Beat,” Dan Dorrance on Gabriele Muccino’s “Playing the Field,” Craig Stearns on Annette Haywood-Carter’s “Savannah,” Tony Medina on Lifetime’s “Justice for Natalee” and Stephen Lineweaver on Seth MacFarlane’s “Ted.”; editors Jake Pushinsky on Jamie Linden’s “Ten Year,” Pamela March on Michael McKay’s “Lake Effects,” Sue Blainey on Stephan Elliott “A Few Best Men,” Matt Ramsey on ABC pilot “The Fixer,” Michael Knue on Starz’s “Torchwood,” Lauren Schaffer on Nickelodeon’s “Supah Ninjas,” Jacques Gravett on Lifetime pilot “The Bridges” and Charles Bornstein on Lifetime movie “William and Kate”; and costume designers Rachel Sage Kunin on USA Network pilot “Common Law,” Kathryn Morrison on ABC’s “No Ordinary Family,” Christopher Lawrence on Simon West’s “Medallion,” Genevieve Tyrrell on Fox’s “Breaking” and Tish Monaghan on Lifetime pilot “The Bridges.”

Want to comment or suggest a column topic? Email peter.caranicas@variety.com

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