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‘2 Guns’ Helmer Kormakur Set to Climb ‘Everest’

Icelandic helmer thrives on mid-budget, ‘midway’ filmmaking

LOCARNO — Baltasar Kormakur, whose U.S. chart-topper “2 Guns” opens Switzerland’s Locarno Festival on Wednesday, is set to climb his own “Everest.”

Produced by the U.K.’s Working Title, and skedded to roll late October/early November, the action-adventure drama of a disastrous 1996 multi-expedition assault on Everest that left eight climbers dead, is now in “soft prep,” Kormakur said on the eve of Locarno.

Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal, John Hawkes and Jason Clarke are in advanced talks to star, he confirmed.

“Everest” will mark Kormakur’s follow-up to the Universal-U.S.-distribbed “2 Guns,” starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, which ranked No. 1 at the U.S. box office Aug.2-4, with a three-day $27.1 million.

Kormakur’s prior movie, “Contraband,” also topped the U.S. B.O., a rare back-to-back achievement for a Europe-based director.

For a top-ranking movie, “2 Guns’” gross is hardly exceptional. What is eye-catching for that trwal, however, is “2 Guns’” budget: Only $60 million.

A seemingly singular helmer-scribe-producer, the half-Spanish Kormakur is based out of his native Iceland.

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That may seem a strange place for any one to launch a template for the movie production industry.

But Kormakur’s “half-way” style – his films are mid-budget, and sometimes midway between Europe and the U.S. in their auteur-ish play on thriller or crime tropes – seems increasingly attractive as Hollywood, spurred by notable underperformers of late, at least debates the wisdom of a pure-play tent-pole strategy.

In Kormakur’s eyes, “It could be one of the best things that happens to the studios if that would mean more risk-taking in terms of projects and original stories.”

Not that it’s easy for Kormakur to get all his films into production. “Everest” poses complexities in both its financing and the physical shoot.

Kormakur was scouting for locations in the Dolomites last week with legendary U.S. mountaineer/filmmaker Dave Breashears, who has climbed Everest five times, and co-directed, lensed and produced IMAX movie “Everest.” He was in production on the film on Everest at the time of the 1996 tragedy.

Breashears, who worked on “Cliffhanger” and “Seven Years in Tibet,” will work as an advisor on Kormakur’s “Everest.”

Koramkur said he aims to shoot on Everest, maybe up to the Khumbu Icefall, probably in the Dolomites, and in a studio in the U.K. or Iceland.

Another challenge is squaring accounts of a passionately debated disaster famously chronicled in Jon Krakauer’s rebutted bestseller “Into Thin Air,” about how two commercial expeditions launched a summit attempt from the South Coll on May 10, 1996, to be caught in a blizzard on their way down.

Kormakur insists he doesn’t like to be buttonholed.

“When I made ‘101 Reykjavik,’ people talked about ‘Almodovar on ice.’ When I made ‘The Sea,’ people referenced Bergman,” he remembered.

Yet “Everest” still bears the imprimatur of Kormakur’s style.

He likes to mix things up. “101 Reykavik” was a comically belated coming of age drama. An action thriller, “2 Guns” also marks Washington’s first broadly comedic performance.

Though a tragic tale, “Everest” will have moments of humor.

“Everest”’s net budget, after discounting tax breaks, is “probably $50 million-to-$60million,” Kormakur said.

That kind of contained budget would be impossible if “Everest” were produced and not just distributed by a Hollywood studio.

“2 Guns” relies much more on the chemistry between Washington and Wahlberg than CGI.

Kormakur predicted that on “Everest,” “We will work on ways to digitally enhance Everest, matching it with Dolomites and Everest, but I’ll do everything physically first. If there’s no other way, then I’ll go to CGI.”

“Everest’s” biggest challenge is most probably finding the human story in a more generic – here action-adventure – context.

William Nicholson (“Les Miserables,” “Gladiator”) and Justin Isbell made early script drafts. Nicholson was brought back on. More lately, Simon Beaufoy (“The Full Monty,” “Slumdog Millionaire” “127 Hours”) has been working on the screenplay, Kormakur said.

Though boasting an ensemble cast, “Everest” will be “a bit Rob Hall’s movie,” the director commented, in reference to one of the expedition leaders who cajoled a client to the top, only to stay with his stricken client when he collapsed high on the mountain, despite a deadly storm.

Kormakur anticipated: “Everest” will be about “ambition, the beginning of the commercialization of Everest,” but also afford, he hoped, “an understanding of why people do this, try to climb Everest.”

“I’m particularly drawn to it because I feel it resonates with what I’m doing. I live on the edge of the world, and am pushing myself personally and professionally to hopefully reach some kind of a summit,” he added.

Soon after “101 Reykjavik,” Kormakur created his own production company in Iceland, Blueyes Productions, which also has a TV arm, RVK Studios.

“I think my sweet spot is to make personal films on not too big budgets and also make other people’s films, bringing productions to Iceland, upping the business here.”

He is currently producing Icelandic contemporary Dagur Kari’s “Fusi,” which is in post, and hopes to direct “Viking,” a big-budget action adventure set in the world of Norse sagas, which would shoot 80% in Iceland.

Baltasar Kormakur is very talented, efficient, has a very good understanding of audiences,” said Laufey Gudjonsdottir, director of the Icelandic Film Centre.

She added: “Two of his films – ‘The Sea’ and ‘The Deep’ – have really touched the heart of the nation. He is definitely one of Iceland’s key film players creatively but is now expanding, going into TV and producing other people’s films. He has very important role here.”

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