On the surface, David Fincher is riding high on the commercial and critical success of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but if you delve beneath the surface things don't appear to be that rosy for the director.
For the last couple of years the Fight Club director has been trying to make a film based on the graphic novel Torso, which features real life hero Elliot Ness after he took down Al Capone. However, Paramount Pictures has recently let the rights lapse, even though it has garnered the attention of stars like Matt Damon and Casey Affleck.
The reason for this?
The high cost of Benjamin Button.
Fincher is a director who likes to get things perfect - really perfect. He spends time on single, simple shots that most directors would probably farm out to the second unit. He's a perfectionist who will not compromise and with perfection comes a price. The price of Benjamin Button being in the $150-$175 million range, which for a non-summer, no action prestige picture is a lot of money. According to the LA Times the film's worldwide marketing budget is around $135 million, meaning the true cost of the film is $300 million. Now, so far the film has grossed around $110 at the US box office alone, a pretty decent sum, however considering that the studios (Warner and Paramount) will only get about half of this, it would appear that the film would have to go a long way to go before it sees profitability. That's not even taking into account Brad Pitt's profit participation.
Button's 13 Oscar nominations should ensure that the film has legs and Brad Pitt's name and visage should also pull in the punters - but it just goes to show that big stars, big budget and big awards nominations does not mean a happy ending for the studio. Although, once DVD and television rights are factored in the film should be profitable.
So where does this leave Torso?
Paramount has had the rights to the film since 2006, and Fincher has been developing the adaptation of Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Andreyko's graphic novel at the studio with a current shooting script by Ehren Kruger. However, the studio let their option to the rights lapse when they would have had to hand over more to buy the property outright. Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Andreyko now own the rights to the property and Fincher is still attached to the project so it may have a happy ending at another studio. It may take a while, and I can only assume that the director will have to work on a (relatively) lower budget than his last project. Considering Fincher's success in the serial killer genre with Seven and Zodiac most studios will be chomping at the bit to try and get onboard, and now that Fincher has critical acclaim for Button, so Torso might be a project that straddles the line between art and commerce.
I can't imagine the rights sitting around for long, but Fincher likes to take a while to develop his films; Button took almost a decade for example, so this won't be hitting the multiplex anytime soon.
More news on Torso as it develops.
Sources: LA Times Via CHUD and The Hollywood Reporter