It’s long been known that Hollywood scriptwriters have nothing on its accountants when it comes to creativity.
A few years ago, it emerged the actor who played Darth Vader, David Prowse???, had not received any residual payments for Return of the Jedi because it was technically yet to return a profit. This was almost three decades after a movie that cost $US32 million took $US475 million at the box office.
There are many other examples of how mysterious and impenetrable Hollywood accounting is to outsiders.
But it still seems like lunacy that director George Miller and producer Doug Mitchell are being forced to sue Warner Bros for earnings for Mad Max: Fury Road.
“Simply put, we are owed substantial earnings for diligent and painstaking work which spanned over 10 years in development of the script and preparation and three years in production of the movie,” they told Fairfax Media after the case before the Supreme Court of NSW was revealed last week.
Their claims include non-payment of a $US7 million bonus for making Fury Road for an agreed maximum budget of $US157 million.
Warner Bros responded with: “We disagree and will vigorously defend against these claims.”
Now it’s not news that Hollywood studios play hardball. They’re in a business where they need a ruthless edge to keep making money.
And it’s impossible to understand the contractual intricacies of a complex deal from what we know so far – a few details from a judgment that the case should be arbitrated in NSW rather than California.
But look at what Miller has done for Warner Bros with Fury Road.
Even to make the movie, he had to overcome countless setbacks including three major delays over more than a decade and having to recast the lead role to replace first Mel Gibson with Heath Ledger then, after his death, with Tom Hardy.
Then, when heavy rain left the desert around Broken Hill too green, Miller had to shift a gruelling shot involving 55 cast members and up to 1700 crew plus more than 200 vehicles to Namibia.
The director of two Happy Feet and three earlier Mad Max movies shot for an epic 135 days.
It could have been a disaster.
But Miller pulled it off more spectacularly than even the most optimistic studio executive could have imagined.
When it was released two years ago, Fury Road was almost universally acclaimed by critics – remarkable for an action movie that was the fourth in a series dating back to 1979. It was a bolt of cinematic energy, a masterfully made, new era action movie with a feminist heart.
At the box office, it took a not-to-be-sniffed at $US378 million despite not being released in China, one of the world’s most lucrative markets.
And then, again remarkably, it went on to win six Academy Awards from 10 nominations. And considering Miller’s relentless commitment to realise his vision, it arguably should have won best director as well.
How many Warner Bros executives would have relished those Oscar wins? How many took credit by association at an after party?
But the sad reality now is that Miller seems likely to be mired in litigation against the studio for years.
Whatever sum is at stake – with the $US7 million bonus just one of a number of claims – it seems likely Warner Bros could well and truly recoup that if Miller gets the chance to make two more long-planned Mad Max movies.
But if he doesn’t get to make them because of the dispute, nobody wins. Not Miller, not the studio, not Mad Max fans around the world, nor the n cast and crew who would be working on them.
For the sake of letting one of the world’s great directors get back to making movies, let’s hope the dispute is settled soon.