Inside Move: Sony’s ‘Spanglish’ lessons

Pic stays out late amid cast changes and perfectionism

HOLLYWOOD — Is James L. Brooks‘ “Spanglish” lost in translation?

Sony Pictures spent half a dozen years waiting for Brooks to find a new project after 1997’s “As Good As It Gets.”

So Columbia chairman Amy Pascal was no doubt excited and a bit relieved when Brooks’ considerable overhead was finally put to use on Nov. 17, 2003, the date Brooks started shooting the Adam Sandler-toplined “Spanglish.”

But for many at Sony, that relief has morphed into anxiety. Production snafus, casting changes and Brooks’ perfectionism have left “Spanglish” nowhere near the end of lensing, five months after it began.

Insiders say it will probably wrap in the first week of June. Its $75 million pricetag is at least $10 million over budget and it’s nearly two months late.

Brooks, in a statement, admits that “we will be possibly five weeks over” but insists “most of it is covered by insurance.”

But how did things get off track in the first place?

It started, of course, with Brooks, who’s known as a meticulous filmmaker who can spend hours and multiple takes even with a few lines from a day player. Indeed, it was Brooks who shot 1994’s “I’ll Do Anything” as a musical, then decided it was better off without the musical numbers.

More, on “Spanglish,” Anne Bancroft, who was to have played Tea Leoni‘s mother, departed to have surgery. At first, Sony execs thought she could return, but after two weeks, the need for a replacement became apparent.

Brooks rewrote his script to accommodate Cloris Leachman, Bancroft’s replacement, and to reshoot the scenes in which Bancroft appeared.

Rumors circulated that Brooks was dissatisfied with Leoni’s character as he’d written it, and that he considered rewriting it for another actress, but Sony execs were able to persuade him not to make any further changes. (“There was a rough process, and at the end of it, Tea shone,” says Brooks.)

Add in Sony’s need to take Sandler off the pic for two weeks to promote Col’s “Fifty First Dates,” and nettlesome restrictions on lensing in Malibu, and you have a recipe for months of delays.

However, Sony stands behind Brooks.

Pascal describes the helmer as “a national treasure” and says, “Actors know that working with him is a great experience.” The film, she acknowledges, is “a few days over,” but insists she has no concern about its schedule or quality.

At this rate, Sony may want to consider renaming the “As Good As It Gets” helmer’s latest picture to “As Long As It Takes.”

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