True story: Director James Cameron's "True Lies," starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, is one of 20th Century Fox's most expensive pictures ever.
After 2 1/2 months of filming, insiders on the project and industry sources say that the budget on the action-packed spy thriller now shooting in Florida is headed toward $80 million. And it isn't expected to wrap production until early March.
Fox is reportedly at risk for up to $68 million, while Cameron's foreign partners are responsible for the difference. Then another $20 million from Fox to market the film domestically next July in a showdown with Warner Bros.' two back-to-back Westerns: "Wyatt Earp," starring Kevin Costner, and "Maverick," teaming Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster.
And since Fox has distribution rights in France and Switzerland, you can add additional millions for international marketing.
Keep in mind that Fox is banking on the creative team that scored one of the biggest blockbusters of all time--"Terminator 2: Judgment Day." "True Lies" is the first time Schwarzenegger and Cameron have muscled a project together since.
But mention all the heady numbers to Fox production executives and they bristle at what they perceive to be rumors and tall tales. They are quick to emphasize Fox's cap of about $68 million on the production budget and a marketing estimate closer to $15 million. Still, Fox has to basically bankroll the picture until all of the money under Cameron's arrangements with foreign film distributors begins to roll in.
Those financing deals are set up under Cameron's company Lightstorm Entertainment, a pact the filmmaker and his former partner Larry Kasanoff were trumpeting at the Cannes Film Festival two years ago. Initially, the two touted it as a $500-million, 12-picture pact with Fox and an international network of foreign distributors. The 12 pictures, which eventually shrunk to nine, were supposed to have production budgets averaging $40 million.
Last July, Cameron found himself being forced to dramatically alter the structure of Lightstorm's financing arrangement. Partially to blame was a crisis in the independent finance and completion bond market.
Under the original Lightstorm structure, Fox would only have had to pay a fixed 30% of the budget of "True Lies" up to $50 million, or $15 million.
But the deal terms changed when "True Lies' " initial budget began to swell. The film then had a tough time meeting the criteria required by completion bond companies. And the bank that Cameron was dealing with offered to put up the rest of the production money only if the completion bond company would guarantee that the picture would be completed on time and costs would kept in line.
So Fox came to Cameron's rescue. It would help with the additional financing that would have originally come from a bank. But Cameron would have to pay the money back, plus interest and fees. For acting as financier, Fox will get paid back first out of the film's profits.
And in the end, some Fox insiders wonder if the Schwarzenegger project--his first since Columbia's box-office bomb "Last Action Hero"--could eventually be responsible for turning the overall Lightstorm scheme into one big exaggeration. "True Lies" could end up being the one true Lightstorm picture.
"Fox isn't worried about its stake," says one studio marketing executive. "They know they will get their money out of this. Look at the story. Look at who's doing this. They will make money on this one."
The story was written by Cameron, who is also directing and co-producing the picture with Stephanie Austin, a co-producer on "Terminator 2." Cameron's staff say his original screenplay is inspired by the French film "La Total."
The French film is about a superspy whose wife and children are unaware of his true career. To them he leads the dull life of a postal carrier. His wife becomes bored, especially when she reads in the paper of the daring feats of an unknown secret agent. She eventually meets a used car salesman who convinces her he's the agent and an affair ensues. The husband notices her suspicious behavior, wiretaps the phone and finds out about her new romantic interest. Just as the wife and salesman are about to shack up at a local hotel, hubby shows up and she discovers who the real super agent is.
Don't expect to get an inkling of Cameron's version out of his staff. All they will say is that the story involves "a James Bond type" who has a day job as a traveling computer repairman and that his wife becomes bored with him. He must try to save his marriage while saving the world from a nuclear holocaust. Tom Arnold and Jamie Lee Curtis are Schwarzenegger's co-stars.
The picture will include plenty of special effects--not on the "Terminator 2" scale, but more in line with the computer imaging used in "Cliffhanger" that allowed Sylvester Stallone to look like he was performing unbelievable feats, when it was actually done with computers.
"Perhaps some of that trickery," quipped one Fox executive, "could be used to offset the budget."