×

Polanski pulls out of ‘Pompeii’

Looming actors strike causes problems

Roman Polanski’s “Pompeii,” the $100 million high-wire act that was levitated early this year and sold in many territories at Cannes before bogging down over location and script problems, lies in ruins now that the director has exited the project.

But the movie is apparently still going forward, with another director being sought.

As for now, all prep work on the indie epic has been indefinitely halted. Producer Robert Benmussa blamed fears of a SAG strike, which intensified as casting dragged on. Others connected to the film said Polanski never succeeded in tailoring the script to the kind of top-tier stars who’d have been key to the unlikely tentpole.

“Polanski has asked for his liberty, and we’ve given it to him,” said Benmussa, who is producing the film with Alain Sarde and Polanski via the helmer’s company RP Prods.

If the union dispute is resolved by February, Polanski could return, Benmussa said, but added that he had “very little hope of that.”

Polanski, 74, has not pulled out so that he could take on an alternative project. The director had been “working nonstop on the project for the past 18 months,” Benmussa said.

The decision to put “Pompeii” on ice was made “in the past 48 hours,” the producer said Tuesday.

Just last week, Summit Intl., which is handling international sales, had expressed wary optimism that the locations would finally be set, paving the way for eventual shooting. Then suddenly, in the middle of the Toronto Film Festival, the sales outfit faced the prospect of meeting not with dealmakers or filmmakers but with angry distribs.

It’s the first festival season for vet sales chief Patrick Wachsberger since Summit added a production and distribution apparatus and $1 billion in Wall Street financing.

“We’ve been meeting agents, and they’ve all said they can’t commit beyond June 30 of 2008 because of the strike,” Benmussa said. “Unfortunately, we are scheduled to shoot in Southern Italy in August 2008.

The weather, the producer said, “is an actor in this film, because the catastrophe happened Aug. 26, during the sweltering heat of summer, when water supplies had run out. It is a part of the story.”

Other, more southern, settings for the five-month shoot were considered but ruled out.

“This isn’t a TV film where sand dunes in Morocco are made to pass for some other part of the world. It’s a question of credibility,” Benmussa said.

Millions have already been spent since the film went into preparation in March, the producer said, and France’s Pathe, Germany’s Constantin and RAI Cinema in Italy are among some 35 distributors from around the world that have pre-bought the pic on the strength of Polanski’s association as helmer, as much as the subject matter.

“I don’t know what we are going to do yet,” Benmussa said. “If Polanski is no longer directing, we’ll have to completely remount the project. Distributors will also have their liberty to pull out of the film.”

He went on: “We still have the book rights, we still have a scenario and a very strong subject that people all over the world are interested in. This is a temporary problem that we have to resolve.”

Pathe and RAI Cinema both confirmed on Tuesday that they were exiting the project. A RAI Cinema rep said: “The contract we had for ‘Pompeii’ is no longer valid, as it was tied to Polanski being attached to direct. If we are offered another director, then we shall see.”

(Nick Vivarelli in Rome, Dave McNary in Hollywood and Sharon Swart in Toronto contributed to this report.)

More Film

  • Apollo 11

    Film News Roundup: 'Apollo 11' Re-Release Set for Moon Landing Anniversary

    In today’s film news roundup, Neon is re-releasing “Apollo 11”; “Sesame Street” gets moved; “Supersize Me 2” is set for Sept. 13; Will Ropp gets a “Silk Road” deal; and Apple makes a movie deal. RE-LAUNCH Neon will re-release Todd Douglas Miller’s documentary “Apollo 11” in theaters on July 20, the 50th anniversary of the [...]

  • Michael B. JordanAFI Awards Luncheon, Los

    Michael B. Jordan's 'Just Mercy' Moves to Awards Season Slot

    Michael B. Jordan’s upcoming legal drama “Just Mercy” has been shifted forward three weeks from Jan. 17 to Dec. 25 for an Oscar-qualifying theatrical release. “Just Mercy” is based on the case of Walter McMillan, an African-American death-row prisoner who was exonerated in 1993 after being convicted five years earlier for a 1986 murder in [...]

  • Harry Styles to Play Prince Eric

    Harry Styles in Talks to Play Prince Eric in Disney's 'Little Mermaid'

    Harry Styles is going under the sea. The former One Direction frontman is in early negotiations to play Prince Eric in Disney’s live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.” Halle Bailey will portray the Ariel, a mermaid princess who dreams of being a human, while Melissa McCarthy is playing her evil aunt Ursula. “The Little Mermaid” [...]

  • Stuber Movie

    Disney Left With a Slate of Film Flops After Fox Deal

    Is Disney having buyer’s remorse? The studio would be forgiven if it were having some regrets after absorbing 20th Century Fox, the company that once generated big box office with the likes of “Avatar,” “Life of Pi,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” After “Dark Phoenix” bombed earlier this summer, Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista’s action comedy “Stuber” [...]

  • Taika Waititi Returning to Direct 'Thor

    Taika Waititi to Direct Marvel's 'Thor 4'

    Taika Waititi is returning to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The filmmaker will write and direct the sequel to his 2017 blockbuster “Thor: Ragnarok.” Waititi’s take on the fourth “Thor” movie puts Warner Bros.’ long-in-development “Akira” adaptation on hold indefinitely. However, the studio hopes that “Akira” can get resume production with Waititi at the helm once [...]

  • Akira

    'Akira' Production Put on Hold by Warner Bros.

    Warner Bros. has put its long-in-development “Akira” adaptation on hold indefinitely, sources tell Variety. Sources indicate that after a brief delay, the studio has pulled the plug on production indefinitely for the classic anime adaptation, which was set to begin later this fall. “Thor: Ragnarok” helmer Taika Waititi was on board to direct, and the [...]

  • Sir Elton John, David Furnish. Sir

    New Elton John AIDS Foundation Gala to be Held in the South of France

    Elton John and David Furnish are launching a new gala for the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The two will host the inaugural A Midsummer Party benefit on July 24 in the south of France at the Johnny Pigozzi’s private estate, Villa Dorane, in Cap d’Antibes. A cocktail reception will be followed by dinner, a live [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content