Tight budgets bring out the best in directors

Thu Dec 27, 2007 3:34am EST
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By Stephen Galloway

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The sequence was vast: A long walk across war-torn France, with thousands of extras, German bombers, tanks and artillery strewn across the landscape -- the kind of scope that would have made David Lean proud.

There was just one problem: The scene in "Atonement" was going to cost $4 million. As depicted in Ian McEwan's novel, the journey incorporated "hundreds of thousands of refugees in the roads and the strafing of those refugees," said Joe Wright, the director of the World War Two-era tragic romance.

"It was a big, epic thing. I was very excited to try and achieve that. But it was costing us a lot of money. So I went one day to (producer) Tim Bevan and said, 'I need an extra $4 million to realize the walk to Dunkirk.' And Tim said, 'I won't give you a dollar over $30 million for an art film."'

Bevan's words had a curious and quite unexpected effect.

"The idea that I was making an art film suddenly liberated me," Wright recalled. "I said, 'If you are calling this an art film, then I can really follow my intuition and instincts totally?' And he said, 'Yes.' And I said, 'I accept that!"'

Accepting reality is a crucial part of a director's work, which -- arguably more than that of any other artist -- requires functioning within the limits of the possible.

"Any filmmaker has to balance the creative aspects and the practical, money aspects," said David Cronenberg, director of "Eastern Promises." "That is a normal part of filmmaking; it is one of the many tricks you have to be able to do."

Knowing he couldn't populate the landscape with people and equipment, Wright decided to go the opposite route and make its desolation an element of the story.   Continued...

<p>Cast member Keira Knightley arrives for the screening of "Atonement" at the Cinema Palace in Venice August 29, 2007. The Venice film festival opened on Wednesday with "Atonement", an adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel about a girl who makes a false accusation with tragic results and tries to atone for her mistake. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini</p>