Star salaries account for half of new film's tab

Thu Dec 9, 2010 8:11pm EST
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By Kim Masters

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Filmmaker James L. Brooks doesn't work often, and he doesn't work fast.

But when he does work, he commands a budget as spectacular as his output ("Terms of Endearment," for which he received producing, directing and writing Oscars; "Broadcast News"). While many studios are shying away from star-driven adult comedy-dramas, Sony approved a lavish budget for "How Do You Know," Brooks' first directing effort in six years.

The film, which centers on a love triangle, cost $120 million to make, though tax rebates from Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. reduced the tab to about $100 million.

One reason for the price tag is old-fashioned salaries for the picture's talent: Reese Witherspoon ($15 million), Jack Nicholson ($12 million), Owen Wilson ($10 million) and Paul Rudd ($3 million). Brooks will earn about $10 million plus a share of any profits for writing, producing and directing. That's about $50 million for the major talent alone.

The cost also was high because of the time the 70-year-old filmmaker devoted to production and postproduction, and his decision to reshoot the beginning and end. "He's slow and meticulous," a person familiar with the production says.

Another challenge: "How Do You Know" opens next Friday against "Tron: Legacy," "Gulliver's Travels" and "Yogi Bear."

"That's a big weekend," sighs a talent representative with a client in the film.

Brooks' 1997 holiday release "As Good as It Gets" rode Oscar buzz to $314.2 million worldwide, but his most recent December effort, 2004's "Spanglish," fizzled. "They thought it would do a couple hundred million worldwide," a source says. "It did $55 million all-in."

But Sony hopes "How Do You Know" will perform like "It's Complicated," an $85 million-budgeted picture from Nancy Meyers. The Universal film pulled in nearly $220 million worldwide last winter.