CATEGORIES Movie NewsThis weekend, "Men in Black 3," starring Will Smith, hits theaters nationwide. Unfortunately, what should be regarded as a light summer popcorn flick has turned into an entertainment gossip storm. The sequel reportedly went into production before the script was finished, and ended up receiving multiple rewrites. (Filmmakers even took a break from shooting to try and fix the story's problems.) Earlier this month, the L.A. Times reported that the film's budget was -- including marketing -- a whopping $375 million.
Obviously, this movie has a lot riding on it -- it can't afford to be a Memorial Day weekend distraction, it needs to be a global phenomenon on par with its two predecessors.
Moviefone recently spoke with series director Barry Sonnenfeld about the film's well-documented problems. However, according to him, they aren't problems at all: After all the media attention regarding rewrites and rumored script changes demanded by Will Smith, Sonnenfeld steadfastly explained that it's all been an over-exaggeration that the audience shouldn't be concerned with.
The big story surrounding this release is the craziness of the production. Your quote about filming without a complete script was: "If this movie does as well as I think it will, it was genius. If it's a total failure, then it was a really stupid idea." Is that a risk you would feel confident taking again on a future project? I cannot believe that that's what I said because there was never not a finished script. It is impossible to make a movie without a finished script. Within the script there were going to be changes made in some scenes and locations, but we always had a script. We shut down after Christmas -- which we intended to do -- to continue to hone the second act and the first half of the third act. We always had a first act and an ending. But my question to you is: A) What difference does it make in terms of the story and the moviegoers' experience? And B) On every movie that you've seen, can you tell me what their experience was?
I've worked on ten movies as a cinematographer and ten as a director, and out of those twenty movies I've only had, what reporters would call, finished scripts on three of them. On the first "Men in Black" -- which is a beloved movie -- we changed the entire plot and ending after we were done shooting with dubbing and subtitles. But who cares? If you can explain to me why the filmgoers need to know it, or why it's different than any movie from "Avatar" to the movies coming out this summer, then I think it's an interesting story. But for some reason, and I think it's because Will Smith hasn't been in a movie in four years, what really is the norm has become a story. So help me understand what your readers need more information about. Well this production came together so fast to accommodate a very tight window with Will Smith's availability. Was there ever a moment where you just thought "This isn't going to happen"? Not really. In every movie there are moments when you realize you are over budget and have to lose some of your favorite scenes, or there's a problem because the availability of the actor you want isn't there. Up until two weeks before we shot "Addams Family Values," [they were] threatening to pull the plug. Right before we started to shoot "Get Shorty," MGM told me we had to lose $320,000 by Monday or we weren't making the movie. It's the nature of the business, but because this one was bigger, expensive and complicated, you had a few times where you thought, "I wonder if maybe they shouldn't make the movie." It usually happens early in production and you figure it out. I just can't convince people enough of this, so I'm not going to try anymore.
The people involved in making the movie felt their version of stress, and that version of stress was just the stress that every filmmaker has every day. It doesn't matter if it's big-budget or small-budget; they're equally stressful, equally important. You don't say, "I better do a better job on this one because it cost more, or because it's got Will Smith." You all go out there, do your best work and ultimately it comes down to script and casting -- and I think we got it right. When the first movie came out in 1997 the movie industry was very different; Hollywood is now telling stories for a global audience. "MIB 3" is being promoted not only in America, but around the world. What's the biggest challenges you see in making a movie that has to appeal to a global audience but still takes storytelling risks? All the "Men In Black's" have done better globally then in the U.S., but we were never conscious of dumbing down or making it more universal. Universal stories come out of small things, not big things, and they come out of emotion and some sort of comedy. We haven't changed the films based on the globalization of the market. In the second film we made the mistake in thinking that what worked about the first film was comedy; we went to the comedy place too often in the second film, and forgot that our guys needed to be heroes and our villains had to be villainous and strong. I think that "Men in Black 3" to me, is much more like "Men in Black 1."
I was on "Men In Black 1" for two years and when I started none of the scenes took place in New York. They were underground in Lawrence, Kansas, they were in Nevada, they were in Las Vegas, they were in Washington, D.C., they were about pheromones. I left the movie after two years cause the script still wasn't right, directed "Get Shorty," came back, got the script right, hired Tommy and Will and made the movie. I didn't read anything about "Four years of script work finally delivers Men In Black 1". I don't know why this one became about the script so much. We haven't changed the tone or style based on international [audiences]. Although if there was ever a "Men In Black 4," I would suggest that we open up the environment, shoot some of it or make part of the plot take place in China, Russia, Germany. Because the Men In Black protect all of earth and not just the northeast corridor. It'd be nice to do that, but not necessarily for marketing reasons. Although, there's nothing wrong with that either.
How serious have discussions gotten about developing the "Men In Black" franchise beyond Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones? There's been no talk about "Men In Black 4" at all, except occasionally Will Smith will come up with an idea while we're flying somewhere. I don't know what goes on within the corporate meetings but I have heard no talk about changing the franchise, doing another one or opening it up to others. If "Men In Black 3" does well, I'm sure there will need to be some strategic discussions about it. I do think that as cool an idea as "Men In Black" is, what makes it work really well is not the big stuff, but the small stuff. That chemistry between Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin is really important. It'd be like deciding to do "48 Hrs." without Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy. I think that the relationships in this movie are the single biggest success.