Disney dives for ‘Pearl’

Mega-budgeted WWII epic finally gets its greenlight

After months and months of budget scrutiny and talent talks culminating in the tension of the last two weeks, Disney has greenlit — at a budget of $130 million-$135 million — the WWII epic “Pearl Harbor,” with Michael Bay directing and Jerry Bruckheimer producing from a script by Randall Wallace (“Braveheart”).

A few legal issues were still being ironed out Wednesday evening, but the film is on track to begin production in April or May for release around Memorial Day, 2001.

Disney will finance the film’s entire budget, making “Pearl Harbor” one of the most expensive films ever at the greenlight stage.

The studio will control worldwide distribution, though it is a distinct possibility that Disney could later lay off a large percentage of the budget on Spyglass, its foreign partner on such films as “The Sixth Sense.”

Estimates are that Disney could recoup as much as 40% of that budget in exchange for Spyglass stronghold territories Germany, Spain, Italy and France.

Spyglass, run by Roger Birnbaum and Gary Barber, has offered to finance the entire film, a scenario that Walt Disney chairman-CEO Michael Eisner and Walt Disney Studios chairman Peter Schneider have resisted while making the decision.

The greenlight ends the high-profile jockeying between the studio and Bay and Bruckheimer. That duo gave up their upfront fees and delaying gross participation until the studio reached breakeven — and thought they had gotten a greenlight on a $145 million budget from studio chief Joe Roth and Eisner.

That changed when Roth exited the studio this month when his contract expired. Suddenly, Eisner and his new lieutenant Schneider had second thoughts, and spent the last two weeks in a tense negotiation with Bruckheimer and Bay to shave an extra $10 million off the film’s negative cost.

One source said Bruckheimer and Bay’s waiving of upfront and gross could make a difference of $40 million to $50 million for the studio. That’s a significant chunk of change, and a significant move for the duo.

Casting will begin in earnest, with the early favorites being that “American Beauty” star Wes Bentley, “Thin Red Line” star Jim Caviezel and Charlize Theron will be offered the lead roles (Daily Variety, Jan. 25) in a storyline about two fighter pilot pals from Tennessee who fall in love with the same nurse.

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