Did you see Men In Black III? Did you think it was very average? Well, it was, but it’s actually miraculous the film hung together as well as it did - because when filming began, the script wasn’t finished. As in, there was no third act written AT ALL. Shooting commenced regardless – a release date had been set, the cast and crew were paid for, contractual obligations had to be met and that was the end of it.
The reason for this is the manner in which major tentpole releases are staggered throughout the year. Releases are spaced in order to allow each film the maximum return, which is why you almost never see two films pitched to the same target audience released in the same week. It’s basic economics: an unfortunate necessity of a business which has to absorb losses in the hundreds of millions when mega-budget extravaganzas like John Carter flop like soggy, impotent hobnobs.
The problem is, there’s nothing in the way of wiggle-room. For instance, Catching Fire (The Hunger Games sequel) is pencilled in for release on the 22nd November 2013, a week after the release of Thor 2 but with a lucrative buffer-zone of three weeks before the second Hobbit. This date cannot be altered, so, come disasters, writer’s strikes or debilitating bouts of dysentery crippling cast and crew alike, Catching Fire will be released on November 22, 2013. Any delay would cost it hundreds of millions in revenue - tardiness, financially, is simply not an option.
Catching Fire’s tight production schedule cost it its original director Gary Ross (who directed The Hunger Games), who walked after realising the tight deadline – imposed by the studio to strike while the proverbial iron was hot – precluded him from spending as much time on pre-production as he would have liked.
And similar cases of the tail wagging the dog are anything but rare. The Pirates Of The Caribbean sequels began shooting with unwritten screenplays for financial reasons, and the detrimental effects to the narrative were put, at extraordinary cost, right there on the screen for all to see. Other films which found themselves in similar predicaments - Schwarzenegger clunker Last Action Hero and Bond-dud Tomorrow Never Dies, for example - both suffered critically, while Spiderman 3, Iron Man 2, Transformers 2and Alien 3 were united by their status as hugely inferior sequels. All began shooting with unfinished screenplays and all are, to varying degrees, a bit shit.
Then there are films whose screenplays are complete only to be deemed inadequate once filming has actually begun. Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood was as dull as a footballer’s wits, and this was after a medicinal flurry hasty on-set rewrites. The $200m+ Lone Ranger movie is receiving rewrites as we speak, despite filming having commenced, and Prometheus scribe Damon Lindelof has been tasked with rewriting the last act of the zombie-apocalypse Brad Pitt vehicle World War Z, although production has already wrapped. Yes – they finished filming before realising the script was guff, and now aim to retrospectively repair the damage their own poor planning and lack of foresight has caused.
If the heaving wheels of production and release scheduling are already in motion it’s simply cheaper and easier to spend millions on late changes then it is to delay release. The Pirates sequels, Iron Man 2, Spiderman 3 and Transformers 2 were all preposterously successful, while Men in Black III has done well.
Low quality does not appear to equate to low box office. It’s just a shame that we, the punters, are the ones who, in every sense, pay the price.