James Cameron knows his way around a blockbuster and a bloated budget.
The ambitious auteur of “Titanic,” a $200 million gamble that paid off as the highest-grossing picture ever, will finally release his long-awaited, 3-D fantasy “Avatar” on Dec. 18.
Somewhere approaching $500 million, the New York Times reports.
But 20th Century Fox, which is distributing the film, hopes to make a profit based on Cameron’s stellar track record, says the Times. And in case the movie flops, there are supporting players involved to cushion a financial blow: Fox’s bill for production costs has been minimized thanks to the backing of investors like Dune Entertainment and Ingenius Media. The private equity partners have absorbed 60% of the budget from Fox’s parent, the News Corporation, according to the Times.
While Fox intends to spend some $150 million on marketing the film worldwide, other allies — including IMAX, which created an “Avatar” trailer for theatres — are helping out with promotions. Also, “Avatar” stands to get a boost from theatres using 3-D technology, which sell pricier tickets than their 2-D counterparts.
All this, to help Cameron pull off his high-tech passion project, 15 years in the making.
The production budget is reportedly $230 million — not terribly unreasonable, given the recent bills for “Pirate’s of the Caribbean: At World’s End” ($300 million) and “Superman Returns” ($270 million). But factor contributions by Cameron and other parties in addition to the expense of international marketing, and the final price could reach — yes — $500 million, the Times estimates.
In a further hedge, Mr. Cameron would give up part of his own participation in the film’s returns if production costs exceed a specified level, according to those who were briefed on the film. If final production costs exceeded $300 million, for instance, Mr. Cameron would effectively defer much of his payout until the studio and others were compensated, despite his years of labour on the movie.
Cameron, whose reputation is on the line in an industry where you’re only as good as your last project, is clearly willing to lose money to pull this whole thing off. At this point, the sci-fi geek/showman has nothing to lose except this box-office mojo.
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