Word On ‘Waterworld’

The media are so starved for news from Universal’s top-secret “Waterworld” production that some publications are running stories about how their reporters couldn’t get near the sets.

Allow us to part the clouds. Variety, which reported on the production from Hawaii last fall, was recently on the watertank set on the Paramount lot. What exactly is being filmed in that big bathtub?

The Exxon Valdez oil tanker. That’s right: The ship that ran aground in 1989 and devastated the Alaskan coastline is featured prominently in “Waterworld.” U flacks refuse to divulge its significance in the futuristic pic.

The most expensive movie in history, whose budget has reportedly swelled to between $125 million and $170 million, shot four days of first-unit action on the Par lot last week – specifically some exterior scenes with Kevin Costner and Jeanne Tripplehorn.

Despite beefy security guards, four stories of scaffolding and blue sheets that hide the watery sets from view, Variety still managed to get a glimpse of the action on the beleaguered production one day last week.

Inside, a hulking rusted wall of a replica of the Valdez, or “Deez” as the crew has taken to calling it, sat to one side of the massive water tank just behind the studio commissary.

“This is just a part of the ship,” said one crew member. “The rest is in City of Commerce,” a dreary industrial district south of downtown L.A.

The set was awash with soggy crew members in wet suits handling lighting equipment, cameras and reflectors. Dozens stood idly by while repeated takes captured a two-camera shoot of fireball explosions and a metal oar being lowered into the water through a rusty hatch. Meanwhile, a diver on a jet ski circled in the pool to replicate waves in the tank beating against the side of the ship.

Though line producer Gene Levy roamed the small compound, director chairs for Costner and Tripplehorn sat vacant. Both were reportedly in their trailers.

Perhaps the most telling, but most deserved, largesse afforded by the producers was a grill chock-full of seafood – what else? – including tuna steaks and shrimp shishkabobs for the actors and crew.

“No wonder the budget is so high,” said one observer. “They’re eating like kings.”

The pic is still shooting in City of Commerce, where more of the Valdez exteriors and interiors sit drydocked. The crew is also headed into the Mojave desert, where they’ll be “basically blowing up stuff,” says one source.

Since the pic started lensing June 27, Universal has pushed the press away, presumably out of fear that reporters might write about what all that money is being spent on. Now you know.

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