If summer is a reminder of anything for movie executives, it's that Christmas--the next big target season for blockbusters--isn't too far off. So now, when holiday release schedules are being firmed up, it's not a pretty picture when a studio finds a gaping hole where a big, splashy movie ought to be.
A few weeks ago, 20th Century Fox executives realized they would have no such picture ready to go. In search of a quick fix, they turned to the team that bailed them out once before.
Last year, the production team behind "Speed" sped up post-production to permit a June release--two months earlier than planned. The film became a runaway hit for Fox, taking in $340 million at the box office worldwide, catapulting Keanu Reeves' career and landing Sandra Bullock in the public eye.
This year's model isn't the anticipated "Speed" sequel--that won't hit theaters until summer, 1997--but a comparably paced action thriller, "Broken Arrow," starring John Travolta, Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis ("Little Women") and directed by John Woo ("Hard Target"). It had originally been eyed for release next year.
"Broken Arrow" is the story of a deadly conflict between two Stealth bomber pilots trying to recover a stolen nuclear weapon that threatens an unidentified major American city. Mathis plays a national park ranger who comes to the aid of Slater's character when his former friend, played by Travolta, turns to the dark side.
Like "Speed," "Arrow" is being produced by Mark Gordon, written by Graham Yost and steered through development and production by Fox executive Jorge Sarlegei and will be edited by John Wright, who was nominated for an Academy Award for "Speed." (Jan De Bont, who directed "Speed," is not involved with "Broken Arrow.")
Bill Badalato and Woo's partner Terence Chang also carry producer credits, while Woo's other partner, Chris Godsick, shares executive producer credit with Dwight Little. It was actually Little who dreamed up the story with Yost and Gordon, but he had to bail from the project because he was directing "Free Willy 2" for Warner Bros.
"Speed" was the story of a mad bomber, a runaway bus, a frantic Los Angeles Police Department SWAT team and a daredevil cop working against time and ridiculous obstacles to prevent bus passengers from being blown up.
A comparable pace is the goal for "Broken Arrow." Like "Speed," two of its key players, a man and a woman, work against time to stop a colleague gone bad. The biggest difference is in the mode of travel: Most of the action in "Speed" takes place on the bus; in "Arrow," it's played out in planes, on the tops of trains, aboard careening Humvees, on the ground and in the air. But the mission remains the same: Stop the bomb.
So does the studio's mission: Speed post-production (the editing, sound mixing, music scoring and other final touches).
"Speed" was in post-production for about six months and was planned for a late-summer or early-fall release last year when Fox executives got an early peek at footage and saw a hit on their hands. They pushed the release up two months to June 10 to beat out MGM's bomb thriller "Blown Away." The plan worked, with the competition proving a box-office disappointment.
But Fox sources are quick to note that the post-production time on "Speed" wasn't nearly as tight as that targeted for "Arrow." The new film, which has an 87-day shooting schedule that began May 6, is being shot in Page and Williams, Ariz., and Los Angeles. It has an accelerated post-production period of 3 1/2 months. (The average for an action movie is five to six months.) That's a small window for Wright, who just finished editing "Die Hard With a Vengeance." He jumped immediately to work on that picture after editing "Speed."
"Christmas movies need to make a splash because that period of time is so competitive," Gordon says.
"What Fox didn't do is rush the development of this picture to make it fit that window. That is important, because the script and all the elements were there," he says, when the decision to make it a Christmas release was made.
"There will definitely be a shorter post," Gordon added. "It will be tight. But the final cut will end up being a great ride for the audience."
And it will be chock-full of special effects, Godsick and Chang note.
"I want to make sure that people understand this film is very different from 'Speed,' even though it has the same screenwriter and producer. And I want to add that we are not trying to ape 'Speed,' " says Tom Jacobsen, Fox's president of production. "But are we pushing this because we believe in this team? Yes. Are we hoping for an encore? From your lips to God's ears!"