No script, no worries: Men in Black 3 shoots anyway

Wed Mar 9, 2011 7:23pm EST
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By Kim Masters

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Hollywood veterans don't remember anything like it happening on a major movie before: In November, Sony Pictures started filming "Men in Black III" with only one act of the script set.

The studio scheduled a production break from late December through mid-February, during which the remainder of the screenplay was supposed to be completed.

Now the hiatus has been extended until March 28, and a new writer, David Koepp, who did uncredited work on the first "MiB" in 1997, has been brought on board to work out complex script issues involving time travel. Although the delay is costing millions, Sony says those expenses will be more than offset because the studio started shooting in time to save millions thanks to New York state tax breaks.

But the decision to start filming a complicated, effects-driven tentpole without a finished script has some in Hollywood baffled. The top executive at one production company expressed skepticism that "the tax break is covering the chaos cost," adding, "There isn't any tax break that would convince me to do (what Sony did) -- ever!"

"MiB III," scheduled to open in 3D in May 2012, has a budget that will easily pass $200 million. In the story, Will Smith's character returns to 1969 and encounters famous figures of the day, like Yoko Ono, as well as a younger version of Tommy Lee Jones' Agent K (played by Josh Brolin).

Smith would have to travel quite far into the past just to see the previous edition of "MiB" in theaters: The sequel was released in 2002 and, despite a drubbing from critics, grossed more than $440 million worldwide.

With studios chasing franchises, it's hardly surprising that Sony was determined to pursue another "MiB." Sony spokesman Steve Elzer said the studio came up with the unusual shooting plan because it feared the New York incentive program would expire at the end of December. (Instead, it was extended for five years.) The studio also has said the hiatus would allow outdoor scenes to be shot in New York in spring.

But several observers suspect the studio moved ahead with production largely because all of the key players -- including Smith, Jones and director Barry Sonnenfeld -- were finally ready to go, and a delay might have jeopardized that.   Continued...