Gore Verbinski Attempting to Salvage 'The Lone Ranger' at a Lower Budget

Wednesday, 17 August 2011 13:59 Written by  Jordan DeSaulnier
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Gore Verbinski Attempting to Salvage 'The Lone Ranger' at a Lower Budget

Right before last weekend got properly underway, news broke that Disney had kicked The Lone Ranger, its high-profile update of the serialized western avenger, to the curb due to a truly massive budget.  Despite the presence of Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and Johnny Depp set to play Tonto alongside Armie Hammer as the title character, Disney apparently could not write a $250 million check for the film. 

Subsequent reports suggested that the project wasn't completely dead, but that Verbinski and company were working with Disney to bring the budget down to a more palatable level.  Now it looks like that's true, Disney is looking for huge cuts in a very short amount of time, and many associated with the production believe it to be doomed.

According to an update at The Hollywood Reporter, the studio has granted a week for Verbinski and his creative team to retool the screenplay by Justin Haythe, trimming all possible fat in order to bring the projected budget down to Disney's mandated $220 million - $215 million or less.  Studio honcho Rich Ross believes that the only way to build a rickety bridge across a bottomless "substantial budget gap" is to both scale down some big action sequences and catch a few monetary breaks from key creative players. 

A confidential source explains, "It all starts with [Verbinski]," says a source. "If there is any saving this version of the movie, he'll have to find substantial savings. If he can, maybe we can hold this together."  Verbinski and Bruckheimer have foregone $10 million in fees so far.

Previous reports pegged the current budget at $232 million but the THR article says is more like $242 million.  Even in Disney's target range, the film would need to gross at least $800 million globally in order to be profitable for Disney.  That might not seem like a mean feat for the latest Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers, or Harry Potter entry, but for the first film in a hopeful franchise based on a property most popular with an older crowd, its by no means guaranteed.

Drafts of the screenplay under Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott, the duo responsible for all four Pirates films, incorporated Native American mythology, which allowed for the inclusion of werewolves.  Sources who've read more recent drafts by Justin Haythe claim that the supernatural components are no longer present, but that some elaborate set pieces make up for their excision.  Among those set pieces is an action sequence hyperbolically referred to as, "the biggest train sequence in film history."

So, to recap, it seems Disney is giving the filmmakers just a little bit of time to reduce the budget before officially pulling the plug on The Lone Ranger.  If the cost be sufficiently lowered during that window, things might just stay more or less on schedule. Theoretically, the project could be reconstituted without Verbinski, though it's unknown if Depp would remain aboard.  Seems fairly likely, since he was attached for two years before Verbinski's involvement and he has now starred in a Pirates film not directed by the Rango helmer.  Depp has a pay or play deal on the film, meaning he gets paid regardless if it ever actually gets made.  Armie Hammer probably isn't quite so lucky.

Production on The Lone Ranger was scheduled to begin production in New Mexico this fall, with a cast that included Tom Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, and Dwight Yoakam.  A release date of December 21, 2012 was already announced.

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