Disney's Lone Ranger adaptation has been fighting an uphill battle, ever since director Gore Verbinski announced his intentions to deliver a surprisingly unconventional version of the character. That was long before the film was (briefly) canceled by the Mouse House's executives.
The Johnny Depp-starring western is now back on track and has a new scheduled theatrical release date to boot. Still, there's good reason to wonder: besides the now-infamous "werewolves" aspect of the the film's plot, what exactly caused Lone Ranger's estimated budget to balloon to upwards of $250-260 million... before it was reworked significantly and lowered to a "more reasonable" level of $215 million?
Lone Ranger producer Jerry Bruckheimer has a lot of experience when it comes to working on ultra-expensive projects - be it Michael Bay films like Armageddon and Pearl Harbor or Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Studios always prefer things to be as cheap as possible, which is why pricey undertakings like these often have to deal with temporary production delays. All the same, chopping off at least $35 million from a movie's production budget is not a simple task (to say the least).
Here is how Bruckheimer says he, Verbinski, Depp, and their Lone Ranger production team managed the task (via THR):
"We redid the production plan. We originally laid it out to avoid winter. Every single location we had, there was winter -- 30s at night, 50s during the day, best-case scenario. We were jumping around. California, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah. If we had a big crowd scene and then the next day we were shooting just Tonto and the Lone Ranger, we still had the crew "on" because you have them weekly... [So] we bunched together scenes with Tonto and the Lone Ranger, so we had a much smaller crew. We saved about $10 million just by doing that.
"Then we looked for the best break in tax incentives. We found that Louisiana gave us a better tax incentive than New Mexico -- that was another $8 million. We're still shooting in New Mexico, and we might [also] go to Louisiana. We're asking New Mexico to come closer to the Louisiana incentive. We dropped our California location not because they didn't offer a tax break but because it was another production office that we had to open.
"... [Then Director] Gore [Verbinski] and myself and Johnny [Depp] and some vendors and creative people agreed to deferments. They will get paid at a certain point that Disney negotiated with them, as I will. It's a "favored nation" deal, so we all get paid at the same point when Disney recoups..."
On the topic of what material in the Lone Ranger screenplay - penned by the likes of Justin Haythe (Revolutionary Road) and Pirates scribers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio - did (or failed to) make the cut:
"We cut a sequence involving a coyote attack -- supernatural coyotes -- and a small animated segment. The train [scenes] are intact. We trimmed it a little bit. Gore made some sacrifices creatively, but nothing that would hurt the film. We had to work it out. The studio set a number, and it was always our responsibility to get to the number."
While there's been discussion before about how Lone Ranger is reportedly still aiming to feature one of the biggest locomotive train action set pieces ever put to film, this is the first we've heard about an animated sequence - or "supernatural coyotes"... unless Bruckehimer is referring to the film's "werewolves"-?
Verbinski has incorporated visually surreal and overtly philosophical elements into otherwise mainstream popcorn movies before (see: this year's Rango), but it sounds like he was originally going for something even more unorthodox with Lone Ranger. Whether the final product will be better or worse because of the aforementioned artistic compromises Verbinski and Co. ultimately had to make... well, that is anyone's guess at this point.
Lone Ranger is now slated to gallop into U.S. theaters on May 31st, 2013.