As the Hollywood majors proclaim the need to cut back on costs while the average budget for a studio movie climbs to $26 million, the notoriously spendthrift independent Carolco is getting close to spending more on its sequel to 1984’s The Terminator than anybody ever spent on any motion picture. Will James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, starring $14 million man Arnold Schwarzenegger, be the first $100 million movie? It could happen.
While refusing to name the actual figure, spokespeople for the movie and Carolco deny that the budget will reach anywhere near that record mark. ”The budget started high and nothing ever changed,” says Larry Kasanoff, head of Cameron’s independent production outfit, Lightstorm Entertainment. ”We have the biggest star in the world, the best effects people, and a brilliant director. We’re paying for value. But $100 million is ludicrous.”
However, the Terminator 2 budget is well into the $70 million range, already at the high end of today’s inflated budget scale, and still climbing. Several key factors are contributing to the picture’s extraordinary expense. The first is Cameron himself, director of Aliens and The Abyss, who is known for taking his (often cranky) crews to creative places no one has gone before. ”The crew is ready to kill him,” says one Carolco source. ”This movie could be Carolco’s Heaven’s Gate.” The independent did lay out a collective sum of about $30 million to buy the rights for a sequel back from both Hemdale ($5 million) and Cameron’s former producer and ex-wife, Gale Ann Hurd ($5 million); to pay returning stars Schwarzenegger (approximately $14 million, including a jet plane) and Linda Hamilton (about $1 million); and to meet Cameron’s fee for writing, directing, and producing ($6 million).
The director’s challenge was to complete the ambitious special-effects action adventure on a tight 100-day shooting schedule that couldn’t begin until Schwarzenegger was available in October. Terminator 2 completed principal photography March 29, after 118 days, and second unit crews are still shooting. According to Kasanoff, three teams of editors and five effects crews are working around the clock, seven days a week, to meet distributor Tri-Star’s scheduled July 3 opening. ”Knowing this cast of characters, they’ll never make the date,” says Twentieth Century Fox distribution chief Tom Sherak, who had to push back the release of 1989’s The Abyss when Cameron failed to deliver on time.
On top of its initial $30 million outlay, Terminator 2’s costs are mounting because its roller-coaster ride of intense chase sequences require difficult location shoots (rather than the more controlled environment of a soundstage) and cutting-edge special effects.
George Lucas’ special effects house, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), is creating the movie’s ground-breaking computer animation effects, four times the number employed by Cameron’s last special-effects picture, The Abyss. ”We are under budget and on time,” insists Lisa Van Cleef, ILM director of publicity. Nonetheless, makeup effects wizard Stan Winston, who created the first Terminator, is working on two robots this time, and they are costing more than his initial estimates, according to sources close to the picture. During one high-speed helicopter chase (which involved closing down 2.5 miles of the Long Beach Freeway for two weeks of night shooting), an Arnold Terminator cyborg (Schwarzenegger) punches through the windshield of a huge tanker-truck to reach the steering wheel. The truck flips over, and one helicopter explodes into the back of a swat van. The sequence required six cameras and as many as five layers of film: live footage, miniatures, rephotography, rear projection, and computer-generated effects.
”It was like marshaling an army,” says Kasanoff. ”I’m pleased to report we won the war.”
Actually, it’s only a battle. The war won’t be decided until Carolco totals up its profit statements.