MOVIE executives routinely refuse to talk about their agreements to insert consumer products into films in exchange for hefty fees from advertisers, although they insist that commercial interests never take priority over artistic integrity.
But with "Sahara," some creative decisions apparently took promotional considerations into account. For example, producer Karen Baldwin demanded script changes to accommodate DaimlerChrysler because the German-American carmaker negotiated to have its Jeep trucks featured in the film. "You can't have the truck get almost stuck," Baldwin wrote in a March 2004 e-mail to "Sahara" executives. "I would bet that Jeep will have a heart attack when they see that. They want to show how well the Jeep handles and responds — not that it will get stuck in a tough situation."
Four months earlier, when director Breck Eisner expressed concern during development of the film about problems with another sequence involving a four-wheel-drive truck, Baldwin wrote in a memo, "Can't cut it. Jeep to pay 3 million."
The automaker entered into a partnership with the film's distributor, Paramount Pictures, for promotional tie-ins and an advertising campaign featuring its Jeep Wrangler Unlimited.
Eisner also suggested eliminating a bar scene featuring tequila because "it doesn't really work anymore." Baldwin again balked: "Need the tequila and beer scenes at some point as it means a lot of dollars (2 million from Souza and 3 from Heineken)."
The bar scenes eventually were cut for creative reasons, according to a person close to the production who spoke on the condition of anonymity. This person said that several companies backed out of product placement commitments in 2004 after "Sahara" novelist Clive Cussler filed a lawsuit against the production company seeking to stop the movie from appearing in theaters.
Spending freely to give the thrill of a chase -- on water
A complex boat chase in "Sahara" features Matthew McConaughey doing his best James Bond impression. He performs daredevil maneuvers, dodges machine gun bullets and leaps out of a fast-moving craft seconds before it erupts in a fiery explosion.
The water sequence lasts only seven minutes, but it didn't come cheap. It was filmed at two locations in Morocco and one in Spain. Producers paid $915,415 for two high-powered boats and $548,162 for two gunboats. They paid $131,950 to build the shell of another vessel that would be blown up on-screen. The four boats were later resold for $803,049. The producers also transported military watercraft from Britain and rented a helicopter at a cost of $28,314 a week to capture aerial footage.
Much of the movie's weaponry — the "Sahara" budget allocated $288,285 for boat guns, automatic weapons, grenade launchers and 44,000 rounds of ammunition — was used in the chase scene.
Advance production personnel, a marine unit and stunt players needed several weeks to choreograph the chase. The scene took a cast and crew of several hundred three weeks to shoot. Fifteen camera and sound workers squeezed onto the speedboat carrying McConaughey.
One of the boats ran over and destroyed an expensive camera lens, which was replaced by the movie's insurance carrier.
Five boats...$1.6 million
Boat captains and crew...$231,495