Men In Black III at the mercy of Will Smith's "process," producer's great hair
Amid the fascination with Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, Charlie Sheen, and, I don’t know, your life or whatever, another fiasco has mostly gone quietly unnoticed—that of the incipient stream of disasters befalling Men In Black III, Barry Sonenfeld’s sequel that has become its own sort of Sisyphean struggle. When last we checked in, the film had been put on hiatus after an already-delayed start in production, with producers bringing in various screenwriters to work on Tropic Thunder scribe Etan Cohen’s original script, a crew that included Jeff Nathanson, David Koepp, and then Cohen again. Even star Tommy Lee Jones seemed somewhat dour about its future when he spoke to Vulture last month, lamenting that there were “vast pieces of the script unwritten” as a sobering rejoinder to enthusiastic assurances from the studio that it would nevertheless meet its Memorial Day 2012 opening date.
Today The Hollywood Reporter delves into what, exactly, has gone wrong, and it’s a fascinating portrait of foolhardiness, hubris, and Hollywood infighting at several different levels. Its chief revelation is that the film actually started shooting in November with only one act of the script finished, a bold move that was undertaken so the production could take advantage of certain tax breaks that were supposed to expire in December. Instead, those breaks ended up being extended for another five years, negating the need to rush—but according to executives from Sony, they at least helped MIB3 save millions in expenses, millions it now needs to offset the rapidly increasing costs of the current delay. And considering the film is already budgeted at over $200 million and counting—slightly worrisome, since the last sequel grossed around $440 million—they’re probably going to need it.
So what’s causing the delay? For one thing, Will Smith has “become very enamored with aspects of screenwriting,” seemingly emboldened by his recent successes with hands-on crafting of movies for his kids, and his deep involvement with the script is now holding things up because his “process ‘takes a long time.’” (No word on what, exactly, Will Smith’s “process” is, but we’ll presume it involves papering his trailer in outlines written in yellowing index cards, each unsatisfactory revision stamped with a red “Oh, Hell Nah.”)
Another potential problem: Since the first act has already been locked in, any rewriting will have to make sure it doesn’t contradict what’s already in the can—a tricky prospect made even trickier by the film’s complicated time-travel plot, which involves Smith’s character visiting 1969 and meeting a younger version of Jones’ character (played by Josh Brolin), as well as famous celebrities of the era like Yoko Ono. Time-travel scenarios always mean the dangers of “bullshit loopholes,” according to one source on the project, and making the first act immutable while trying to deal with said loopholes “creates problems that are just crazy.”
And that’s not all! According to the report, a power struggle has broken out between Sonnenfeld and producer Walter Parkes, one that involves Parkes’ “Salieri complex” as well as his hair, apparently: “A lot of the blame gets put on Barry because he's so neurotic and out there," another source says. "But the real evil here is Walter trying to impose his point of view on things. And because he's so facile and he's got great hair, he wins the day a lot.” Anyway, all the players involved—Will Smith, Sonnenfeld, Salieri Hair—are still planning on a March 28 resumption of filming, although the article doesn’t even hint that the screenplay is anywhere close to finished. And of course, things are further complicated by the fact that Koepp only took the job on the provision that he wouldn’t have to talk to Parkes and his hair. But hopefully they can all put their differences aside, push forward, and create the sequel that we’ve all been long sort-of aware exists.