‘Terminator’ Finds Home in L.A.
By DARRELL SATZMAN
The world is in danger of coming to a violent end and that suits Hollywood boosters just fine.
After a hiatus of more than a decade, the fabulously lucrative “Terminator” franchise, the first two installments of which generated more than $550 million at the box office, is back in production.
This time around, armed with an estimated $170 million budget, the biggest ever for an independently financed film, Arnold Schwarzenegger will face off against a female cyborg and the battles will be waged exclusively in Los Angeles.
It wasn’t going to be this way. That the movie is being made locally and not in Canada is the filmmaking equivalent of a Hail Mary pass.
C-2 Productions and Intermedia Films, the two companies that are producing “T3: The Rise of the Machines,” were as good as gone to British Columbia in January, according to those involved in the negotiations that brought the film back to L.A.
The companies had begun hiring a crew and were making preparations to begin filming when the producers struck a deal with Los Angeles Center Studios and canceled their plans to work abroad.
Quarterbacking the drive to keep “T3” in Los Angeles was production manager Sharon Mann, who had ample motivation. Her job was at stake.
Initially, the plan for “T3” was to shoot eight weeks in Los Angeles and 12 weeks in Vancouver, where Los Angeles would have to be partially re-created because that is where the film is set. But Mann, an industry veteran who has lost work by the flood of production leaving L.A. for Canada and other locales, took it upon herself to work up an alternative budget based on an entirely local shooting schedule. She presented her findings to the producers.
“When it became clear that it was a small amount of millions difference to stay here, it got the producers attention,” Mann said. “Everyone, the producers, the director and Arnold Schwarzenegger, reduced their personal fees to make it happen.”
More importantly, according to Mann and Moritz Borman, an executive producer on “T3” and co-chairman of Intermedia, a subsidiary of German-based IM Internationalmedia, was the flexibility of local businesses when it came time to negotiate fees.
In addition to Los Angeles Center Studios, local companies including Panavision, United Rental, Special Effects Unlimited and others offered substantial discounts to secure business from “T3,” they said.
“I’d like to shoot every film in Los Angeles, but in some respects Los Angeles has priced itself out of the business,” Borman said. “At the end of the day, with this film we got the deals we needed to make the difference.”
In mid-April, “T3” was occupying three of the six soundstages at the 18.5-acre Los Angeles Center Studios complex downtown. By summertime, the production, which is scheduled for a summer 2003 release, will take over two more stages, said Christopher Ursitti, co-owner of the complex. Working mostly nights, much of the 500-person crew will be ensconced downtown until September.
Location filming for “T3” has also begun and dozens more production days are scheduled over the next few months in areas ranging from Sunland-Tujunga to Palmdale and the Westside.
“We got one back from Canada. It’s one small victory,” said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. “This is a huge production. If the budget is $170 million, the indirect spending for the local economy is about $141 million in addition to the production costs.”
Ursitti, whose studio was facing the prospect of a slow summer, would not disclose details of the deal with “T3,” but he said the arrangement made sense for both sides
“This is a coup, and it’s not just for us but for all of downtown and Los Angeles in general,” Ursitti said. “We’ve been losing the small ones, but when you start losing the big ones it’s more of an issue. It hurts more.”
The “Terminator” project provides affirmation that the economics of filming in Los Angeles can make sense.
“It’s a great, high-profile film that sends a message that you can shoot your script here,” said Morrie Goldman, vice president of communications and government affairs for the Entertainment Industry Development Corp. “We need all the cheerleaders we can get and we appreciate that this film is being a cheerleader for Los Angeles.”
“T3” will realize some savings from the state’s Film California First program, probably a few hundred thousand dollars or less. And producers will definitely save on travel, lodging and other expenses by not having to set up shop in Canada.
Ursitti said Los Angeles Center Studios went to great lengths to craft a deal that would offer “T3” discounts on a broad range of production services.
“We packaged it in a way that looked at servicing many more of their need than just a stage and an office,” he said. “We’ve got grips and electricians, transportation, and we just opened Flix, our commissary. Discounting all the services resulted in a large net savings.”
Even so, “T3” would almost certainly have saved money perhaps a lot of money by filming in Canada.
“Since the Canadian dollar is 63 cents of the American dollar you get a one-third discount off the top just to go to Canada,” said entertainment analyst Harold Vogel, of Vogel Capital Management. “If you’re going to make a $150 million or $200 million picture, obviously that’s not peanuts.”
But when the local budget began to pencil out, the pull to stay in Los Angeles was powerful, especially for Schwarzenegger, who has made no secret of his political ambitions and who is sponsoring an initiative on the November state ballot to provide funding for after-school programs. And though he did take a pay cut, the action adventure star is still expected to collect at least $25 million.
“It could very well be that (Schwarzenegger) wants to be closer to home when he’s doing the filming so that he can take an active role in campaigning for his after-school initiative,” said Allan Hoffenblum, a Los Angeles political consultant. “It reinforces the notion that he is seriously considering running for office.”
Staying in Los Angeles also helps Schwarzenegger avoid a potentially embarrassing campaign issue should he decide to run for office, Hoffenblum and others said. “This is 20 weeks of work that didn’t exist for American workers when the film was planned for Canada,” Mann said. “All of these jobs and we’re talking about painters, sculptors, drivers would have been Canadian jobs.”
Good feelings notwithstanding, it’s unclear whether the decision on “T3” will lead other producers to stay home. “I can’t say it would work on every movie. We made exceptional deals,” Mann said.
Meantime, local and state officials are savoring victory.
“This is a great film to be shooting in Los Angeles,” said Karen Constine, director of the California Film Commission. “And we’re going to be trying to get the word out about that.”