Why Director Roland Emmerich Cut His Salary to Help Finance ‘Midway’

Roland Emmerich
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Pulling together $100 million to finance an elaborately staged, historical film without major studio support was a herculean feat for “Midway” filmmakers. At Tuesday night’s premiere in Westwood, Calif., director Roland Emmerich told Variety that he took a significantly smaller salary to helm the World War II film.

“We did this really frugal,” Emmerich explained. “The very first time I wanted to make this movie — 20 years ago — we had a budget like, I think, for $155, $160 million. Then, when we went out to the studios, it was still $125 [million]. Then, when we realized we have to do it the independent way, I brought it down to $98 [million]. And it worked.”

“All of a sudden, you realize sometimes how much waste is in studio movies, in a way,” Emmerich continued. “But I have to say, I gave a little bit up of my salary. Quite a big part, so you know. But it’s fine.”

Emmerich played coy about exactly how much he slashed his salary. “I cannot say that. My agent would like kill me. He would just like cut me down,” he said, but acknowledged that it was reduced “by a lot.”

The World War II film — starring Ed Skrein, Mandy Moore, Aaron Eckhart, Darren Criss, Nick Jonas, Luke Evans, Patrick Wilson, Dennis Quaid and Woody Harrelson — follows the story of American military officers in the Pacific, from 1941’s Pearl Harbor attack through 1942’s Battle of Midway, the latter of which proved to be a decisive victory for U.S. forces in the war.

Emmerich’s previous cinematic blockbusters and their expensive productions, including “Independence Day,” “2012” and “The Day After Tomorrow,” have often been fueled by ample budgets, ultimately making more than $3 billion in global revenue. But for “Midway,” the film relied on independent financiers — including Hong Kong’s Starlight Culture Entertainment, whose CEO Peter Luo told Variety through a translator that he believed in Emmerich’s vision to see “Midway” through after planning it for years. Lionsgate will handle U.S. distribution.

Emmerich told Variety that pursuing independent financing for “Midway” was “an important moment for me because I realized all over the world there are people who want to see a movie like that. Then you go to them and collect the money. The really great thing is, you are in the driver’s seat. There are so many partners. You’re all of a sudden the studio. … At the end, I had the final say so.”

Producer Harald Kloser, who partnered with Emmerich for the fifth time on “Midway,” agreed that reducing salary was key.

“Take lower pay. Secondly, lower the pay again. Then, thirdly, talk to all our friends, call in all our favors,” Kloser told Variety of “Midway’s” budgeting. “Also, be a little bit of a preacher to say, ‘Dude, this story needs to be told. You will want to be part of this. You will want to be able to tell your kids that you worked on this movie.’ Through that, we got just an amazing spirit going.”

“Midway” hits theaters on Friday.

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