A big studio action movie with a major star. Complicated stunts, shot in numerous exotic locations around the world and a disruptive change in directors before the cameras rolled.
Now here's the catch: The film came in under budget.
That's what makes 20th Century Fox's current release "Entrapment" such an oddity in a profligate industry where going over budget on a movie is a given. The film, a romantic caper movie starring Sean Connery and directed by Jon Amiel, debuted last weekend as the nation's top-grossing film at $20.1 million.
But for Fox, the sweetest news was that it also came in nearly $2 million under its original $68-million budget. That's almost unheard of in Hollywood, where spending less than a studio is willing to pay is almost sacrilegious.
Much of the credit goes to Connery, who doubled as a tightfisted producer on the film along with partners Rhonda Tollefson and Michael Hertzberg. Connery set the tone by shunning some of the usual perks a star of his magnitude routinely gets; for example, he took a commercial jet when he could have used a private plane. He also took it upon himself to make sure details were in place ahead of time.
"It's a boring old tale," Connery said in an interview. "It's the old-fashioned stuff that works--like preparation."
Fox production President Tom Rothman acknowledged that having a movie of this scope come in under budget is "unusual" and attributable to nothing less than "good luck--which really means having no bad luck--and having a well-managed show."
"Sean was a huge part of it in two ways," Rothman said. "He's a very, very experienced and savvy film professional who was very helpful in all the logistical planning in advance. And he was extremely helpful in the making of the movie," which was shot last summer on location in Malaysia, Scotland, London and New York.
Rothman said there's a line in the movie spoken by Mac, Connery's character, that epitomizes the actor-producer: "I'm never late. If I'm late, I'm dead."
Rothman and Fox know well the flip side of helplessly watching a budget grow. Two years ago, the budget of "Titanic" soared to $200 million. Of course, no one's complaining now that the film has grossed more than $1.8 billion worldwide.
The Oscar-winning Connery, 68, stars as the world's greatest art thief who's pursued and seduced by a strong-willed, resourceful insurance investigator who may or may not be an aspiring thief herself, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones ("The Mask of Zorro").
An associate of Connery's said that even on films he is not officially producing, the star has been known to take things in his owns hands--literally. He once took a storyboard out of the hands of a director when the movie was heading out of control.
"He's very efficient and is able to tell you things like simpler ways to do a stunt," Rothman said. "And he's very low maintenance. He's about the work."
To be sure, studios do indulge Connery with perks that they lavish on any big star. But Fox executives say the difference is that Connery isn't someone who gripes about minimal amenities in his trailer when on a remote location.
"He has a very pragmatic attitude," Rothman said.
Tollefson, who's been Connery's producing partner in Fountainbridge Films since 1992, said ever since they first worked together, "Sean would always say, 'There's a way to make movies for a price.' " She said Connery pays close attention to "little things," such as reducing the number of private drivers and cars used on location.
"If everybody has a car, it adds up," Tollefson said, noting that on "Entrapment" she, Connery and Amiel drove themselves.
Connery recalled how on the set of Richard Brooks' 1982 production "Wrong Is Right," he and nine cast and crew members, including the cinematographer, the sound man, the assistant director and three department heads, rode the bus together each morning to the set, cutting down on the number of vehicles.
"Otherwise, we would have fragmented the unit and had nine cars with nine drivers, which would not have been a contribution," Connery said.
When Connery had to leave the island of Mull (off the coast of Scotland) while on location for "Entrapment," Tollefson recalled how he spurned a private plane to drive two hours to Glasgow to catch a commercial flight.
"His attitude is, if it's not necessary to spend the money, let's not spend it. We believe every penny should be up on the screen," Tollefson said.
Rothman also credited Amiel, whose credits include the thriller "Copycat," with being "a firm believer in that same attitude."
Connery said filmmakers need to show "responsibility to the parent company," and that the best way to accomplish this is to "lead by example" on such important things as "getting the script as right as we can, never wasting money and rehearsing on Saturdays." Connery added, "There's nothing worse than getting on a set and there's nothing happening."
Recalling early film experiences, Connery said, "The old-fashioned way was to get the jokes in the script right and then use that as your blueprint to make the movie."
Connery also wanted to make sure "Entrapment" didn't start "until the script was shootable" in order to avoid the common and often disastrous practice of beginning production without a script.
He said he became concerned during pre-production when he realized that the film's original director, Antoine Fuqua, was taking the script in the direction of a big-budget action film that would cost more than $100 million.
"Ron Bass' movie was a caper tale and I wanted it to have a love story as well as a heist," Connery said. "It needed much more conversations with the actors." He said the script went through three sets of rewrites before he and the studio were satisfied.
Fuqua left the film amicably.
"It was a tremendous setback," recalled Connery, estimating that the interruption set the project back at least a month and precipitated the loss of the original director of photography and set designer.
Nonetheless, Rothman said changing directors and delaying the start date by nearly two months "had no meaningful impact on the budget."
Tollefson said another cost-saving move was a decision to shut down production for an entire day to rehearse the film's climactic heist sequence, which required a difficult stunt on a sky bridge--50 stories above the ground--that spans the two tallest towers in the world--the 1,483-foot Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
They figured extra rehearsals saved time and overtime pay that might have been required if the scene took longer to shoot than planned.
Rothman said that while studios are always "fighting the inevitable battles with cost containment," it was refreshing to work with Connery, "who took his producing job very seriously and was bound and determined that the movie he produced come in on budget."