Kubrick Keeps ‘em in Dark With ‘Eyes Wide Shut’


Just how much money Stanley Kubrick’s psycho-sexual drama “Eyes Wide Shut,” starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, will wind up costing Warner Bros. is one of the best kept secrets in Hollywood.

Industry guesstimates have ranged from $65 million to far higher for a movie that had the longest production schedule in modern motion picture history--18 months--and will sit in the can another 10 months before its mid-July release.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Sept. 30, 1998 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday September 30, 1998 Home Edition Business Part D Page 5 Financial Desk 2 inches; 64 words Type of Material: Correction
Kubrick defended--Due to an editing error, the following paragraph was inadvertently left out of an article on director Stanley Kubrick published Tuesday.
Sony Pictures chief John Calley defends his friend Kubrick, saying that, while he may be frugal, he’s hardly cheap: “He lives wonderfully and is generous to a fault. There’s nobody more economically disposed than Stanley. He’s a conservative filmmaker--efficient and concerned about costs.”

Warner Bros. co-Chairman Terry Semel insists, “I know you won’t believe me, but it’s in the 60s.” Even at that, it’s the most expensive movie Kubrick has ever made. Then again, the legendary director hasn’t made one in more than a decade. Semel refused to talk about Kubrick and Cruise’s deals, but both will get substantial chunks of every dollar that comes to the studio.


Sources say Kubrick--whose distinguished career as one of Hollywood’s most celebrated filmmakers includes such classics as “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Paths of Glory,” “Dr. Strangelove,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “Lolita” and “The Shining"--is getting around $8 million to direct and produce “Eyes Wide Shut,” which he also co-wrote, against around 10% of the gross.

While Kubrick’s past movies have by and large been profitable, his directing-producing deal has never been on a par with someone like Steven Spielberg--who as a director-producer has commanded as much as 50% of the profits on his films.

Sources say that Cruise, who normally receives $20 million against 20% of first-dollar gross, agreed to $15 million against 15% to work with Kubrick. Between them, the superstar and director are guaranteed no less than 25% of the film’s gross profit.

But those who have worked with Kubrick before say that no matter what the film ends up costing it will undoubtedly be far less than what it would have cost in the hands of a less cost-conscious director.

“I promise you that a Hollywood-type production with a major star like Tom Cruise and a world-class director like Stanley Kubrick would have cost someone else $80 million or $90 million,” suggests Semel. “It would have been shot in less time and would have cost multiples more per day.”

Semel added that on a typical studio movie, “there are very costly ongoing running costs, and in Stanley’s case they were kept to an absolute minimum.”


The day-to-day shooting cost of a movie is often the most expensive element of any production, along with lengthy post-production schedules. Where a big studio production with major movie stars typically costs from $150,000 to $300,000 a day to shoot, Kubrick is said to have spent as little as $12,000 a day.

Sources said that when Sony Pictures needed to borrow Cruise to promote “Jerry Maguire,” the studio was surprised to learn that it would only cost $60,000 a week to shut down the production.

Kubrick, whose unique deal guarantees him zero studio interference on his movies, is reportedly fanatical about costs.

“He’s very concerned about wasting money,” Semel says. “He treats the studio money as if it’s his own. It bothers him if a dollar gets wasted.”

Kubrick, who controls every aspect of his productions from the script to the print quality of the posters, works with a small crew whose members don’t get paid during shut-downs over the course of production. In the U.S., crews are guaranteed pay during hiatus periods. But the 70-year-old director-producer, who hates flying, always makes his films in England, where he’s lived for more than 35 years.

Several Hollywood sources characterized Kubrick as being “notoriously cheap,” particularly when it comes to his crew.

Kubrick also wears many hats on his productions, operating the camera and performing other technical functions that a studio would otherwise have to pay someone else to do. He edits all of his own movies on the computerized editing system and post-production facilities he has at his 172-acre estate near St. Albans, about 20 miles north of London.

Known for being a fanatical craftsman, Kubrick is even said to personally work on the dubbing of his European trailers.

“He is the smartest manager of distribution and that’s why his films do inconceivable sums of money in Europe,” says Sony Pictures movie chief John Calley, who during his tenure as a top executive at Warner Bros. from 1968 to 1980 worked on three Kubrick films--"A Clockwork Orange,” “Barry Lyndon” and “The Shining"--and remains one of his closest friends.


Calley defends his friend, saying that, while he may be frugal, he’s hardly cheap: “He lives wonderfully and is generous to a fault. There’s nobody more economically disposed than Stanley. He’s a conservative filmmaker--efficient and concerned about costs.”

He recalled how he and Kubrick fought for weeks over the budget of “Clockwork Orange,” the director’s controversial 1971 movie.

“I wanted to make it for $1.28 million, and he wanted to make it for $1.32 million,” says Calley. “So, we compromised, and I think made it for around $1.3 million.” The film was a big hit despite being banned in some countries, grossing $41 million domestically and about $73 million overseas.


Warner executives say the movie continues to make money theatrically worldwide and was only recently released in Italy for the first time.

Calley said the director was “not profligate or capricious,” though he may spend a seemingly inordinate amount of time putting together his movies. Kubrick sometimes will shoot the same scene 40 or 50 times.

In 1967, an MGM executive reportedly asked whether “2001"--four years in the making--referred to the title of his movie or when the film would be completed. “The Shining” reportedly took 200 days to shoot.

“Eyes Wide Shut,” which began filming at Pinewood Studios near London on Nov. 4, 1996, initially wrapped in late December 1997 but with re-shoots didn’t entirely finish until this summer.

Warner executives estimate the actual shooting time to be around 11 months, which is more than double most Hollywood productions.

“Eyes Wide Shut” is Kubrick’s first film in a decade following his 1987 Vietnam War movie “Full Metal Jacket,” which grossed about $120 million worldwide, $46.4 million in the United States.

The psycho-sexual thriller is based on Austrian Arthur Schnitzler’s 1926 German novella, “Traumnovelle” (published in England as “Rhapsody: A Dream Novel”), which explores the sexual ambivalence of a happy marriage. Collaborating on the script with Frederic Raphael, Kubrick updated the story, moving it from Freud’s Vienna to modern-day New York.


While the plots of Kubrick’s movies are as secretive as his budgets (cast and crew have to sign confidentiality agreements), it’s been widely reported that Cruise and his real-life wife Kidman portray married psychologists who act on their sexual fantasies and dreams, each having affairs with clients and exploring New York’s sexual underworld.

Warner had originally hoped the film would wrap in time for a Christmas 1997 or early 1998 release. It was then tentatively slated for release this Christmas, then considered for spring, but a few weeks ago the studio said the film wouldn’t hit theaters until July 16.

Semel said his marketing executives wanted a summer release in order to be closer to a planned August roll-out internationally.

Kubrick’s painstaking style is not for everyone. A frustrated Harvey Keitel left the production after five months to shoot another movie when tensions arose between him and Kubrick. He was replaced by director-actor Sydney Pollack.

Though Kubrick’s perfectionism has become legendary, most actors and studio executives in Hollywood would kill to work with him.

Born in the Bronx, where he spent much of his childhood watching movies in local film palaces, Kubrick later became a still photographer. He is widely considered one of the film industry’s consummate artists.

Calley says Kubrick’s reputation as a paranoid, Howard Hughes-like eccentric is completely misinformed. “He’s so easy, accessible and fun, he’s on top of everything and has a great sense of humor,” says Calley, though he recalls that Kubrick once told him his definition of paranoia is “one who’s in possession of the fact.”

Semel said what he finds phenomenal about Kubrick is “he’s so creative and so accomplished, and he does it at a very modest price, even though it takes longer.”

That said, spendthrift Hollywood could certainly stand to take a page from Kubrick’s book of budgets.