The John Carter “What Really Happened” File: Andrew Stanton on Reshoots and the Pixar Process

Andrew Stanton, John Carter News

Much has been made of the fact that John Carter had what the industry call “reshoots”, with the implication in some reporting being that the “reshoots” proved that the original principal photography was somehow botched and that expensive, unplanned reshoots were necessary in order to correct the mistakes of principal photography.

As part of our effort to drill down into the “What Really Happened?” question, we found this quote from Andrew Stanton, made well before thefilm

It’s like me saying to you, you can all go and write a piece about what we talked about today, but you only get to write it once. You don’t get to change a word once it’s set down. And that’s how movies are made, and it’s fucked up. It should be that you should somehow be able to balance economics and let the artist be an artist, and not be afraid of failure or trial and error.

You do it with takes, right? Everybody gets 30 takes, 10 takes, five takes until we get it right. Why should I suddenly be omniscient and know that something will work, no matter how it’s written on the paper? It’s a different beast when it’s on the screen. Believe me, we know that at Pixar.

There’s a knowledge that doesn’t come any sooner until you watch it. So why not plan for that? If history’s shown that, for 70 fricking years, why aren’t you planning a process?

Why, if it’s so proven that way, don’t you set up a process that acknowledges it? It’s been so forever.

That’s what Pixar did. We didn’t know how other people made films, we just used logic, which it turns out, nobody uses.

I couldn’t correct the whole screwed up process of live-action movie making, but that’s certainly on my agenda someday. But by hook or by crook, I managed to get on screen what I wanted to see. So I looked and I learned a tonne on the way.

Elsewhere, in various interview, both Stanton and producers Lindsey Collins and Jim Morris say unequivocally that reshoots (more accurately called “additional shooting”, but no on in Hollywood calls it that) were always part of the overall production plan, and that a provision for reshoots was part of the approved budget.  All parties involved in the production maintain that once the budget was approved, with reshoots included, the production proceeded without going over-budget.

As for the actual creative process — Pixar’s process has been much written about, and there is a documentary film about it, and it is as Stanton describes it – an ongoing process of refinement and correction.  His observation that “it’s a different beast when it’s on the screen” as opposed to when it’s on paper is a point that virtually any director or editor would agree with — where Stanton differs from most live action directors in that he doesn’t accept the limitations that most live action directors live with.

Here is a link from the Pixar Website entitled “How We Do It” that sheds further light.

And here is a good article from “Animating a Blockbuster”

Stanton’s stablemate Brad Bird also has some interesting thoughts on the Pixar Process, saying in essence that he doesn’t believe that mainstream Hollywood “has the guts” to adopt the Pixar Process for live action film-making.

GB: Pixar has become the gold standard among popcorn films as far as storytelling, and I’m wondering if the process of animation — and having the story locked in before the animators get to work — is one of the reasons. What I mean is, Pixar creators need to tighten the bolts on its plot and character before the animation process starts, while today with live-action films it’s not unusual to see summer blockbusters start shooting without a finished script.   

BB: I don’t know if that’s exactly true. We’re still tinkering with the story at the start of the equivalent of principal photography, which is the beginning of animation, when we’re still trying to find everything. We usually have a sequence that we know has to be in the movie, because it’s one of the big plot turns, and it’s usually 20 to 30 minutes in and it’s the shift from Act 1 to Act 2 or something that’s crucial. That will usually go into production first, because any version of the movie that would exist will have that scene in it. But the stuff around it — and often the opening — is what you do at the end, because what the opening needs to be shifts a little depending on the movie you’re exploring. So I would not say that we ever have  have completely locked scripts [at the beginning of the animating work]; they are in the process of being remade as the film is in the works. There are some films like “Toy Story 2? and “Ratatouille”  where it is really last minute, chaos reigning, trying to get the stuff ready for the animators so no one was sitting idle and drawing a paycheck.

GB: Pixar is widely admired but, really, rarely copied. Why do you think that is?

BB:  Everyone in Hollywood says they wish they could do it like Pixar, but they really don’t. There’s no secret at Pixar, but there is a belief in letting people pursue something with passion and take chances, and most of Hollywood, really, doesn’t like that. It’s too scary. Some studio executives will say they love obsessive creators who take risks, but really most of them would rather play it safe. Projects cost a lot of money and people would rather follow patterns they know and make things safe and accessible. Hollywood wants there to be a math formula for making hit films. To make something really great and different and interesting means taking risks and following these ideas in your head.

Although my own personal experience in film-making hardly qualifies me to be included in a conversation where the main observations are coming from the likes of Andrew Stanton and Brad Bird — I have suffered through the production and completion of 19 movies and I think there are some aspects of the process that are not well understood by those who haven’t lived it.  A film continues to evolve through each of the stages — the idea in the scriptwriter’s head becomes words on a page  which in turn becomes the idea in the director’s head.  But in the process of getting from what the director had in mind, to what he actually got “in the can” with real actors, real locations, etc….the film morphs again and a huge part of the editing process under the traditional system is “listening to the film” — and instead of imposing the original directorial vision on the mmaterial that was shot, the process becomes one of  remaining reasonably true to that vision but also open to what the actors, cinematographer, production designer, etc have actually delivered.

Having the ability to go back and reshoot some scenes (or elements within a scene – sometimes it’s just a closeup of one actor), plus add a few scenes that were not originally envisioned as necessary but which have presented themselves as the film “speaks” to the director and editor, is an invaluable tool in the overall film-making process. In most live-action film-making, there is either no provision for reshoots, or a very small provision (an “insert day” is sometimes allowed).

My point is that anyone who’s labored through the making of a film would understand the Pixar process and the logic behind it.  The issue is not the creative validity of that process — it’s the applicability of that model to live action film-making where the economics of remounting the production are vastly different than in animation.


  • To Peter,

    A hero is only as heroic as his villian is villianous.
    I read something somewhat like that somewere.
    I suppose your Sab Than would provide substance but I prefer
    a brute, not dumb but cunning.


    If someone was to write APOM nowadays it would most likely be 1160 pages long. Thats the beauty of ERB. It’s like he excised the 1000 pages of boring part and what was left was 160 pages of non stop excitement.

    This movie should have been 3 hours long. If people can sit thru a 3 hour LOTR they can sit thru a 3 hour APOM. Provided
    it is outstanding of course.

    Last Samurai, Ken Watanabe’s Charactor imparted the importance of honor in the bushido culture.
    Kantos Kan should have imparted the importance of Barsoomian
    honor to JC.


    I’m about halfway thru my climatic movie ending.
    Fun, but more difficult to put together then what I thought it would be. – I’m no ERB.

    Hope people won’t mind me posting what I got so far.

    I added a couple new charactors and realize there is not enough space for them in the movie but that’s were my mind went. Might use them to write a Clint Eastwood western style adventure – Fistful of Barsoomian dollars.
    Bal Sac’s first line – Tharks on one side, Warhoons on the other, (hits the cigar)and me in the middle. Imagine that.

    Stanton’s tharks and calots used in climatic ending below.

    Thuria and Clorus had set with two zodes left before dawn.
    Taking advantage of the darkness the transports disgorge the Tharks and there allies some 12 haads from the Zodangan lines that beseige Helium.

    Bal Sag a great chieftan of a lesser tribe (trying to think up a cool tribe name to insert here) was among the first to disembark from the transports. His men were easily distinguishable from the other tribes due to the tattoos, ritual scars and brands, multiple piercings and tropheys that were stitched and stapled to there bodies. Upon Bal Sag’s left breast was stapled a goey spine and head of a red man. Upon his right breast the paw of a banth. On his back was stitched a half dozen feet that belonged to green men that he had personally defeated in battle. About his neck a necklace of 40 mummified red man ears. Bal Sag was dressed to impress and as he and his fellow tribe members approached, Tars Tarkus grunted in approval. While Bal Sag was recieving his orders from Tars, a few of his men adorned themselves with trophies recently acquired during the sacking of Zodanga. Arrogant and proud they strutted their stuff before the other tribes, only 100 strong but acting like they could administer a beat down to Tar’s entire 100,000 strong army.

    Mounting up, they rode off and running at the side of each thoat was a calot.

    Suddenly the dawn breaks. From their places of concealment Bal Sag’s men observe the beleaguered city of Helium. A defensive network of trenches and breastworks surrounds Helium. Anticipating possible relief from Lesser Helium or Hastor, a ditch and breastworks also surrounds the Zodangan perimeter.

    High overhead Zodangan battleships drop bombs, mostly concentrated on the mighty docks that service Helium’s navy. A special ship not designed for fighting other ships but specifically designed for carrying a heavy payload drops it’s bombs on one of Helium’s most ancient docks. Weakened from repeated bombings and the fires raging within, the 1000 foot tall edifice collapses burying the ships and men that are harbored within. In a futile effort to protect what is left of Helium’s docks, hidden cannons fire up at the ships circling above. Revealed by their muzzle flashes the cannons become targets. Zodangan two man fliers dive at steep angles then release their bombs silencing the cannons. (Barsoomian stuka dive bombers).

    Booming explosions rise to a crescendo. Helium’s outer defences are smashed. A colassal explosion brings the gates crashing down.
    Zodanga’s troops mobilize for the impending assault.

    Thru a field glass Bal Sag observes the Heliumites darting thru the rubble and risking their lives to save those about them.
    Bal Sag (Clint Eastwood’s voice) “Boy, tell Tars …. Helium still has some fight left in it.”

    Scene switch to Helium’s only remaining large dock and current location of Tardos Mors and Mors Kajak.
    Peering out from a window the jeddak, his son and officers watch the dust settle from the collapses described above.
    Behind them in the shadows moviegoers get glimpses of the bow of a battleship.
    Heliumites work feverishly readying it for combat. One men hanging from his harness attaches herioglyphics to it’s side.
    Bombs explode on the roof. The dock does not collapse. The officers look relieved.
    The dust settling from the gate collapse reveals Helium’s lost fleet coming to the rescue.
    The men cheer, Tardos (Charlton Heston stature) announces that he will command the battleship and then orders Mors to ready the men hidden in the catacombs.

    Halfway thru the climatic battle Tars Tarkus marshalls his forces for a renewed charge that pushes back the staggering Zodangan ranks leaving behind a crushed carpet of dead and dying red men. Maddened and squealing, thoats leap across a ditch and onto the bulwarks beyond, many of them impaling themselves on sharpened stakes. With mighty oaths on there lips Zodangan pikeman rush the bulwarks in a desparate effort to push the green men back. Tars Tarkus leaps off the back of his dying mount to the top of the bulwark each sweep of his sword hewing 2 or 3 Zodangans in half. Inspired by there leader’s ferocity the green men heedless of death storm the bulwarks. Cannon shots start ripping thru the green men ranks. The shots are coming from cannons strapped on the backs of 25 foot tall Zodangan armor plated zitadars (barsoomian tanks). The green men start to waver but then a squadron of Heliumite one man fliers led by Kantos Kan attack the Zodangan zitadars. Kantos the designated comedy relief is whooping and hollering and practicing his newly acquired Jasoomian gesture. Flippin the finger.
    A great shadow covers that portion of the battlefield. Everyone Thark and Zodangan look upward. With sickening thuds Heliumite and Zodangan airmen (many on fire) fall like rain onto the battlefield. A dozen battleships grappled together, bouyancy tanks blown apart, plummet downward and exploding on contact with the ground, crush and burn a massive wad of combatants.

    The moviegoers gasp! Is Tars alive? Of course he is! He leaped clear but unfortunately the main mass of flaming wreckage landed mostly on his troops and now he is cut off, Zodangans on one side, flaming wreckage on the other.

    JC who was on the flaming wreckage as it plummeted leaps onto a passing by Zodangan one man flier.
    After tossing off the unlucky Zodangan JC notices two things.
    Sab Than’s personal flier with Dejah aboard, docking onto a mass of battleships grappled together floating above.
    Tars Tarkus knocked off his feet and about to die!

    The movie goers gasp! What will JC do?

    The bromance is strong! JC crashes and crushes a couple of Zodangans and then the bromance partners fight back to back. Awwww id’nt that bromantic? A Zodangan officer watching the corpse pile grow at the feet of the bromance partners orders his men back. In awe he asks the white man “Who are you?” JC flips the finger and says “John Carter”. Before the astonished gaze of the Zodangans and before they can react he grabs Tars Tarkus and leaps 500 feet in the air, clear over the flaming wreakage and into the green men ranks on the other side.

    The tharks dismayed at the loss of their vanguard and percieved loss of there jeddack were milling around in confusion.
    Some were exhorting vengence while others contemplated retreat.
    Upon the miraculous return of there jeddeck they gave forth an exultant cheer.
    Leaping onto the back of an abandoned thoat Tars brandishes his blood caked sword and yells “Leave a thark his head and one hand and he may yet conquer”. Brandishing there own weapons and galvanized the tharks give forth another cheer then rally around there jeddak.

    But then JC does the unthinkable. He leaps 500 feet in the air, clear over the flaming wreakage and back into the Zodangan ranks on the other side.
    JC spots, then fights his way to the one man flier he had crash landed while coming to Tar’s rescue.
    JC’s path to the flier is identifiable by the numerous corpses he leaves in his wake.
    The Zodangan officer trys to drag the flier down as JC takes off, but a vicious nose breaking blood spattering kick dislodges him.
    JC with a grim smile opens the throttle and points the nose of the flier towards were he had last seen Sab Than’s personal flier.

    Scene switch to mass of battleships grappled together and still afloat.

    The mass starts to buckle.
    The side that is mostly Zodangan ships (and men) remains stable.
    The side that is mostly Helium ships with more ruptured bouyancy tanks tilts with men sliding off.
    The Zodangans jeer and start cutting loose the mooring ropes that hold the two fleets together, knowing that will cause the Helium side to plummet to it’s doom.

    JC takes control of the biggest battleship seen on the movie screen yet.
    JC’s monster battleship grapples to and lifts up the sagging Helium side.
    JC leads a fresh influx of troops onto the floating battlefield.

    Aside from a rep as a super douche, Sab Than had trained with Zodanga’s most notorious assassins and was regarded as a viciously cunning swordsman.
    Pointing his sword at JC, Sab Than bellows, “do not interfere men, that stunted white ape is mine”.
    Twisting Dejah’s arm, Sab Than with remnants of his last meal still stuck to his teeth plants a slobbery kiss on Dejah’s sumptuous lips.
    Wet, gross and even some tongue action.
    The Zodangans part and make way for the combatants.
    Outraged at this latest affront to Dejah’s dignity, JC leaps forward and nearly impales his self on Sab Than’s outreached sword.
    Fueled with murderous intensity JC lunges at Sab Than repeatedly, only his jasoomian strength and agility saving him from Sab Than’s lightning fast ripostes.
    The fight is awesome but Sab Than’ sword arm gives out from the strain of parrying the repeated power of JC’s blows.
    JC leaps up in the air and as he is coming down he yells “Yuuuurrrgh”.
    Sab Than with both hands lifts his blade in desperation.
    Both blades snap at the hilt!
    JC punches Sab Than in the face with his broken sword hilt.
    Sab Than falls hard, but only manages to spit blood and splintered teeth before JC is on him.
    Sab Than is pinned facedown to the ground with JC choking the life out of him.
    Sab Than’s face turns purple, his eyes bug out of his head, as JC wrenches backward his vertebrae pop from the intense pressure of JC’s knee in his back.
    The world kalediscopes inward around JC, his only awareness the savage need to kill.
    Only one thing could have impinged and it did, it was his beloved, his princess.
    Beating her small fists on JC’s back, Dejah cries out” You must not kill him, you must not!”
    Shocked, JC rises and faces the woman he had risked all for and would do a million times more.
    Unable to face his own secret fears, he croaks out “Why Dejah, Why?”

    “Know JC that I am the proud daughter of a thousand jeddaks”.
    “I am betrothed to Sab Than and due to tradition can not marry the man who kills my intended husband”.

    Sab Than whipped and defeated rises off the ground.
    The men of Zodanga throw down their swords.

    Tardos Mors steps forward and proclaims “Sab Than, looks like you just got knocked the F out.”
    The men of Helium cheer.

    Sab Than looks around in desperation. He looks across the battlefield and every where he turns he sees Zodanga vanquished.
    Looking at the remnants of his navy he observes a sad tradition.
    Zodangan commanders with flags in hand, leaping off the bridges of surrendered ships.
    Emboldened by their sacrifices, plucking his self up and with one last bloody spit, Sab Than picks up the Zodangan jeddak flag and leaps off the deck.
    He yells “Zodanga number one beyatches, Helium blows sorak nads”.
    He thought he would fall several thousand feet during which time he would reflect on his life and make peace with Issus.
    But he leaped before he looked. He lets out one bleet of terror then lands on a whirling battleship propeller.
    His body explodes into a million pieces.

    The hastily erected medic tent was overfilled with the dead, dying and wounded. Cries and groans filled the air.
    A youth using his rifle as a crutch enters the tent.
    With each beat of his heart arterial blood spurts from a bone exposing cut on his leg.
    Sola rushes to his side and with the utmost compassion and thru her herioc efforts saves his life.
    Sola senses that despite his suffering the youth is determined to put on a brave face.
    His complexion had not yet darkened to the olive green of adulthood, but he was strong and tall.
    His tusks were thick and there gleaming whiteness was a indicator of perfect health and fitness.
    She starts to compliment him for being such a brave patient but then the compliment dies on her lips when she notices his tribal tatoo.

    The youth notices that something is odd about the female thark’s behavior. Incomprehensible. There eyes meet. He starts to speak but then his tribal members burst into the medical tent.

    Bal Sag places his four hands on the youth’s shoulders then with uncharacteristic enthusiasm exclaims “Today you entered this battle nameless, but now you are a man, I name you Tak Pakur!

    A smile erupts on the face of the now named Tak Pakur. He grabs his rifle/crutch and shrugging off aid rises to his feet.
    He pumps his fists then chest bumps his tribe members. Hobbling outside he has cause for further excitement.
    The two traitors he had killed had been dragged then dumped in front of the tent. Beside them were the ceremonial cleaver, an urn filled with mummification liquid and the ceremonial staple gun.

    A tribe member high fives then hands the exstatic Tak Pakur the ceremonial cleaver.
    Thwock! A foot separates from a corpse. Thwock! Another.
    Bal Sag himself dips the severed feet into the mummification liquid. An honor indeed.
    (Upon entering manhood they always staple the feet thou they may later swap them out)
    Tak Pakur holds a severed foot to his chest, he presses the staple gun against the foot, his finger poises on the trigger.
    Ever since he can remember he had dreamed about this moment.
    He sees the strange thark female framed in the tent doorway.
    Their eyes meet.
    He hesitates ….

  • Dotar, great analysis. You could add perhaps that the “review embargo” implemented by Disney was not lifted even when the bad press (budget vs tracking numbers) began to appear. Many comments were very positive from people who actually has seen the movie at that time.

  • Paladin — I think you’re right and I don’t mean to imply no value judgment. My point is that this is like watching the Titanic sail into an iceberg and then going back through it all and trying to see how it happened. You don’t end up with just one single cause or one single factor — you end up with a bunch of factors. I think the best I can say for Disney is that they made a series of decisions which those who made them would feel are defensible — but yes, it was pushing everything in the direction of failure. And that failure served various corporate purposes. On the other hand — had Stanton delivered an overwhelming winner, then the film would have “won” and Disney would have been okay with that too.

    What they didn’t do — and this is just tragic from the perspective of the film-makers, the fans, and ERB fans (and especially ERB Inc) is that it sacrificed the film at the altar of corporate game-playing.

    No one at the top said — “failure is not an option” …no one said: “our necks are on the line–you MUST make this work” and without that kind of a message coming down from the top, the promotion just basically went through the motions. Do I like that? Not one little bit. Do I blame them for it? Yes — as a fan of the movie the books, etc, they screwed up something very precious to me and it pisses me off. Can I imagine how they did what they did, and why? Yes. That’s all. But I don’t’ condone it or excuse it. Not at all.

  • Snake-

    Your English is excellent. I understand you very well and agree with all your main points.


    You are, as always, well reasoned and moderate in tone. But when does the benign indifference you describe become malicious neglect?

    I know from experience all the times during my working career where management has purposely let something fail so that the public or a customer or someone of vital interest would be steered in a direction we wanted them to go. Just do nothing. You dont get your fingerprints on something if you just do nothing. Just sit idly by and let nature take its course. It’s that classic passive/aggressive act — plausible deniability.

    So yeah, you can see Disney’s moves each step of the way as being individually reasonable, but take a look at the whole picture, and in totality their actions begin to stink of what I’m talking about: purposefully letting something fail. The operable word is ‘purposefully’, because once you ‘do nothing’ purposely, then your neglect becomes active, a willful action in itself.

    You contend that Disney basically says: if the film is brilliant and succeeds, fine, but we’re not going to lift a finger to help it. But the announcement of it being the biggest flop in history and every other instance of inaction along the way, including the lack of any attempt at course-correction — it does not pass the smell test. It stinks of collusion.

    Hospice means you dont go to extraordinary means to resuscitate a patient, but it does not, however, mean that you cut an otherwise robust patient off from all food and water. Murder in the hospice ward. It’s the perfect crime.

  • For me the critcs doesn’t hurt the movie so much!
    There are a lot of Films out there the have far worse critical ratings…like Transformers,but the make still a lot of money!
    No,for me they hype not enough the movie that’s a fact!
    The bad rumors and press before anybody saw the movie,Disney stupid statement after ??10 days? that they lose 200 mill. by the quarterly report!
    No merchandising! come on this is a big budget box office movie!!!
    A friend of me write critics in Germany he was at the preview screening at the movie and was surprisingly blown away from the movie at said later on the movie is rocking!
    But at the same time he said he had that feeling ”Disney”didn’t know the had a potential Blockbuster in their hands and the marketing is awful bad!
    Now when i look TV we have every hour or two TV-Spots from this Battleship movie or from The Grey movie,with Hunger Games it was the same.
    But at the time John Carter was coming to the Cinema there was only one TV-spot!!
    For me somebody is lying!
    The producer says we are unter $220 mill.!Disney says the budget is $250 mill.and we give $100 mill. for marketing!?
    You ever hear from a company before what the spend on marketing???
    Why think everybody that Andrew Stanton had the final cut?
    You don’t think Andrew Stanton have to compromise some things for Disney!?
    Like he have done for the movie titel? and remove ”Mars”.
    He never want the movie in 3D it was Disney who pushed and want the movie in 3D!
    Behind close doors something was happen..maybe Andrew Stanton is arrogant? i don’t know? may be Disney want to give this guy from Pixar a lesson? i don’t know?
    Fact is Disney does not give the best to push the movie!
    For me (i never read the books) it’s a great movie!
    Hope you understand sometime my bad english!

  • OK. It just seems though when you write an article saying that Disney has treated this film as a “hospice case” you’re taking a side. Now I’m not defending Disney. That studio has been run by morons for years and I doubt it’s going to change anytime soon. But I don’t believe Stanton or the producers’ side of the story either.

    Now your theory does sound strong but it reads as the story of a studio afraid of alienating a director that they allowed him to do whatever he wanted without any safety nets in place. That basically Stanton went all-as one person once said about James Cameron-“Kurtz” and no one wanted to confront him about anything.

    Again I’m probably wrong but that’s how I’m reading it.

  • most of the recent posts have been what I said: defending Stanton as some innocent “genius” at the mercy of a big bad movie studio. I just don’t buy it.

    I dunno. I could go back through the posts and see. The main post I’ve done on the “what happened” theme was one which said that Disney was basically treating John Carter as a hospice case long before the release – not giving an all-out effort to promote it for various corporate reasons which I went into in the article. If you think that constitutes “defending Stanton as some innocent “genius” at the mercy of a big bad movie studio”, I would counter that no, it was a much more realistic and nuanced examination than that.

    I’ve had a chance to do a good bit of additional research since that time, and it’s given me some new insights which I plan to write about in detail. Just so you and I are straight with each other, this is the short version of what I think really happened.

    1. Paramount let the option lapse and Stanton, in the last year of working on Wall-E, called Dick Cook (then head of Disney Studios) and said the rights to A Princess of Mars were available and he was interested in directing it for Disney if they would pick up the rights.

    2. Cook concluded it was worth doing and got the rights and signed up Stanton. His motivation is unclear — perhaps he really thought it was a great prospective franchise, or perhaps he thought it was a good idea to keep Stanton in the fold as he did his first live action film, rather than have him go off to another studio to do so. Disney has substantial equities with Pixar, so creating an ‘in-house’ way for Stanton to explore his live action ambitions was a sensible thing to do.

    3. Disney set the target budget at either $150m or $175m, but when Stanton’s Pixar team of producers (Collins and Morris) crunched the numbers using Pixar-like assumptions about the amount and nature of CGI that would be needed, they came up with a budget closer to 250m. Stanton was unwilling to consider doing it for less — he’s on record as saying that every picture he’s ever done had a huge budget and he just wasn’t inclined to compromise. Cook and Disney then made the most fateful decision in the whole thread — they agreed to a budget of $250m, in the process creating a situation where the film would have to gross $600m or maybe even $700m to break even. In approving this, they probably looked at the numbers for Wall-E and Nemo and said – well, his previous films have done enough Box Office to carry a gross like that, so we’ll go along with it.

    4. All of the foregoing happened in 2007 and 2008. The film was scheduled to begin principal photography in January 2010. In August 2009, Disney acquired Marvel and with it, all manner of “boy franchises” which were far easier to mount, with more of an existing fan base, than John Carter. By the time this happened, Cook was on his way out. Cook left in October 2009 and was replaced by Rich Ross. By that time John Carter was an overpriced white elephant in the Disney lineup — a lineup that now had the whole Marvel collection available to it. When Ross came on board in October 2009, it was too late to derail John Carter — by that time contracts would have been signed with all the major players including all the VFX houses and there really just wasn’t an opportunity to re-tool at a lower budget without a major blood-letting and Ross wasn’t inclined to do that for any number of reasons, not the least of which was the equities with Pixar that would be affected. Better, he reasoned, to let John Carter run its course.

    5. While Ross agreed to let John Carter run its course, he chose not to do the kind of “all-out” promotion that one would expect if JC was truly the “next big franchise” from Disney. He elected to not do any of the merchandising and licensing that would signal such an all-out effort, but at the same time he committed to a $100m P and A budget that should have been substantial enough to give the film a strong enough opening weekend to make it have a chance to succeed — if Stanton delivered the goods in the form of a film that got favorable reviews. Stanton’s previous two films had gotten a 95% favorable rating from critics (Rotten Tomatoes score), and Ross reasoned that with a 100m spend even without licensing and merchandising, this would be enough to get a 50-60m opening which, with strong reviews and great legs, could lead to success. If on the other hand Stanton delivered a film that got mixed reviews, the promotion would probably not be enough to make it a success given the budget and business model dictated by that budget. These were all reasonable decisions by Ross and company.

    6. A byproduct of the foregoing was that Disney did not exert a lot of creative energy on the film. They put it in Stanton’s hands and, according to Stanton, they gave him notes but never insisted on anything. The reshoots were not taken up in panic – they were part of the original plan – and Stanton generally got his way, production wise, as long as he adhered to the $250m budget, which he did. He was able to get more reshooting done within that budget than was originally envisioned precisely because he stayed on budget during principal and had substantial unspent contingency which Disney then allowed him to flow into the reshoots. Disney empowered Stanton and supported him with money and resources — but did not exert any kind of studio creative control. They were basically buying an Andrew Stanton film for $250m and waiting for Stanton to deliver.

    7. Meanwhile Stanton was working his way through the “Pixar Process”, trying to apply as much of that as he could to live action film-making and in the process discovering that it doesn’t always work. He had far fewer creative resources at his disposal than would have been the case with a Pixar film, and far greater logistical challenges. He found out the hard way that there is a reason live action films get made the way they do, and although his Pixar orientation has certain merits, it couldn’t be fully applied to the John Carter live action model and so the process was in some fashion incomplete. The end result — a film which, rather than garnering 90%+ favorable critical ratings, only managed a 50/50 split and clearly fell far short of Stanton’s previous efforts in terms of winning the critics.

    8. Meanwhile, Disney’s promotional campaign was proceeding under a very straightforward premise that the film would sell itself as a “shock and awe” piece of VFX laden film-making. When the campaign first started unfolding in December, with the release of the theatrical trailer on Dec 1 and TV spots in mid December, the campaign’s emphasis os CGI wizardry and limited story orientation seems to have been something that reflected both the studio’s failure to connect with the material — and Stanton’s expressed reticence to give away too much of the story in the promotion. There is not doubt that Stanton’s much publicized comments about “no spoilers” had an impact on the structure of the main trailer and many of the TV spots. But it is also true that Disney marketing — which at that point was in flux with MT Carney already basically out the door and Ricky Strauss not yet on board — was in a position where, if they were really vitally concerned that the film succeed, would have had an opportunity to read the audience reaction and start making adjustments. The audience reaction to the trailer and TV spots was — “meh” — not impressed. The needle barely moved on any of the social media measures that Disney was taking in December and early January, and by mid -January it was abundantly clear that the campaign was not gathering any steam.

    9. It was at this point — January, 9 weeks before release — that most studios would have started implementing new strategies in an effort to achieve a course correction. Disney didn’t do that, and instead just dished up more of the same. Why Disney never changed the theme and content of the promotion is at the heart of whatever “mystery” remains — but in all likelihood it was a combination of factors including a) lack of leadership with the marketing position in flux, b) “give Stanton what he wants” — with the belief that the “no spoilers” approach was what Stanton wanted, and c) no great sense of urgency being communicated from the top — no sense that it’s “do or die” to make this work. Just “go about your business, be professional,spend the 100m, and then we’ll see if the film itself can carry the rest.

    10. And so it got down to the last period before the release. There was tons of negativity in the press, mainly about he budget and “what were they thinking” kind of articles, predicting that the film would flop. But if Stanton’s film itself had won the critics, this could be reversed and Disney certainly knew that. So from Disney’s perspective, they were giving it enough of a push to give the film a chance, even if their push wasn’t all that artful. But under the scenario it was up to Stanton to deliver a film that critics and audiences loved.

    11. The film that Stanton delivered was not that film. It split the critics 50/50 and audience ratings were in the 70’s, not the 90’s where they needed to be under this kind of a model — that being a model where the film needed to generate exceptional word of mouth in order to overcome the so-so promotion. Disney seems to have calibrated its support to the film to be just enough — if the film had exceptional word of mouth — for it to succeed, but not enough for it to succeed with only so-so critical response and word of mouth. Indeed — there are plenty of films that have a 50% critics rating and 75% audience ratings which are deemed successful because the promotion gets that big first opening weekend and everything else is indexed off that. With John Carter — Disney was essentially capitulating, saying that big opening weekend isn’t’ going to happen, but Stanton can still save himself with a great film. Only he didn’t deliver a film that the critics thought was great, and the audience reaction, while good, was not over the top great.

    So who’s to blame? I don’t see anything in the above rendition of “the story” that makes the studio out to be the “big bad movie studio” in the way you seem to think I do. Disney execs made a series of decisions that all make sense if you look at it from their perspective. They could have made some other choices — they didn’t. And the ones they made had a basis in the reality they were looking at.

    As for Stanton – it’s clear that he fell short of where he expected to end up with the critics and the fans. Regardless of what you or I think, the bottom line is that he didn’t win over the critics and while he won over a lot of fans, he only got to 75% fan favorability and that’s good but not great. It doesn’t mean the film can’t eventually be regarded as a Blade Runner or 2001, both of which got mixed reviews and didn’t have overwhelming fan support. But it does mean that as far as the initial objective was concerned — winning the critics and the fans — it gets a “C” from critics and a “B” from fans and it needed an “A” from both.

    Anyway — that’s the overview of how I see it at this point.

  • @MCR
    I think Disney was never the right Studio for John Carter!
    Because i thin the want to make more Family friendly movies and the John Carter (storys)movies need sometime a little bit more harshness!?
    I am glad that Disney never get the rights for Lord of the Rings.:)

  • Sorry Dotar. I guess like Tom I misread this particular post. But it seems that most of the recent posts have been what I said: defending Stanton as some innocent “genius” at the mercy of a big bad movie studio. I just don’t buy it. Possibly because I didn’t leave John Carter thinking it was a masterpiece. As an average moviegoer it was good, not great. As an ERB fan it was pretty much a disaster, up there with Weissmuller’s Tarzan in the raping of the characters ERB created. And most of that I attribute to Andrew Stanton. If he had made that “great” film-one on par with The Godfather, or even Raiders of the Lost Ark or the original Star Wars trilogy-and had made a more faithful film without the shape shifting nonsense, Matai Shang’s pointless villiany, the cliched dead wife and kid and more then I would be more supportive of Stanton. But I’m not.

    Sorry folks.

  • To Dotar Sojat,

    Sorry for reading too much into this particular post, my bad 😉

    As for this particular topic, keeping the production size in mind, reshoots do not seem all that unusual or unplanned. If it had not needed any reshoots, well, that would have been extraordinary. In my opinion, the journalists just smelled blood in the wake of the $250 million price tag and went for a headline.

    Thanks for the link to Peter Weber’s review. I fully agree with him.

    Being one of those who have waited 25 years for an adaptation, I am just so disappointed with what Stanton, Chambon et al. have achieved. John Carter is just a regressive infantile throwback using “Flash Gordon”- formula of the 1980s.

    We should all have come to expect more when looking at the achievements and refinements in the storytelling of movies and tv series that have since past.

  • I wonder if the Pixar process is really adaptable to live-action. From what I understand about it, it’s highly dependent on an in-house environment, where every creative mind has a possibility of proposing alternatives at any time (not unlike the working atmosphere what Walt Disney constructed at his beginnings).

    Andrew Stanton stated in another interview that the script of John Carter was more or less locked before the shooting. He had to make, alone, all the decisions on location, and with a lot of random factors, be it actors or weather. After that there was only so much that could be transformed in post-production, instead of the ongoing process usually practiced by Pixar. I would say that Andrew Stanton couldn’t apply fully the Pixar process to John Carter. You would have to bring all Pixar along with you to do that, or shoot entirely on artificial, green-screen environment.

    The Pixar braintrust failed once before on saving a movie: Tron Legacy. One can only wonder what the movie looked like before their input, but the end product was not really satisfying (to my taste anyway).

  • Tom,
    Like MCR you seem to be reading more into this particular post than is meant to be there. We’re going through a process here of looking at the different aspects of “what really happened”, not necessarily in isolation, but just topic by topic. The topic for this one is simply — were the journalists who have written that the production was out of control with spiraling costs and unplanned reshoots getting it right? Or were the reshoots part of an orderly plan that was agreed to by Disney, and executed by the production. That’s all.

    As for your comments — you pronounce them with such sweeping certainty, I wonder if maybe you’re a professional critic? 😉 I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read the review of Peter Weber, but you might enjoy it.

  • I am well aware that the creative process of filming is a continuously evolving and refining process, and that reshoots/additional shooting are necessary. In my opinion something else entirely is wrong!

    Why is it that the movie comes off as a dumbed-down boring botch job that is uninvolving, badly paced, riddled with unnecessary subplots with bland characters void of any development whatsoever?

    Where is the edge? The sense of involvement, yearning, romance and excitement?

    Or is it just that Andrew Stanton preferred superficial childish storytelling over depth – completely neglecting the tastes of the more mature crowd of moviegoers? I am left with a sort of “Herbie goes to Mars” kind of a feeling wishing if only a more competent director had been in control, this could have been a great adventure.

    An unfortunate choice that has always neutered this genre. He should have chosen the swashbuckling Indiana Jones approach over the castrated muppet approach.

  • Maybe the real issue was that Stanton didn’t have the live action experience necessary for a film of John Carter’s scope? I understand you’re upset about the film not performing or “flopping” but seriously this whole “Stanton is an innocent victim of a soulless studio” scenario can go only so far. I seriously doubt he was that clueless. Also he should have learned early in the process most films aren’t made “the Pixar way.”

    MCR I’m sorry if my point was unclear. This post has nothing to do with Stanton’s being mistreated by the studio and it doesn’t attempt to paint the studio as soulless nor does it even criticize the studio. It simply has to do with whether Stanton and the producers (Collins and Morris) did–as they have been accused in the media–preside over an out-of-control production that went to extensive reshoots as an ad-hoc and unbudgeted response to “production problems”, or whether those reshoots were part of the approved plan from the beginning. That’s all.

  • Maybe the real issue was that Stanton didn’t have the live action experience necessary for a film of John Carter’s scope? I understand you’re upset about the film not performing or “flopping” but seriously this whole “Stanton is an innocent victim of a soulless studio” scenario can go only so far. I seriously doubt he was that clueless. Also he should have learned early in the process most films aren’t made “the Pixar way.” They were making films-great films-long before Pixar and most of them didn’t have the time to constantly rewrite the script or reshoot it until they got it right. Stanton should have taken that to heart. Or possibly hired real screenwriters-not Pixar buddies and novelists with poor track records in screenplay work-to write it. But that’s just my opinion.

  • If John Carter was Andrew Stanton’s “second draft” of the movie, I wonder what he could have delivered if he had been allowed to do Pixar’s usual FOUR drafts?

    And what are we going to miss out on if he never gets to do his sequels? Even if there are no feature film sequels, hopefully the story he has prepared will be released in some format, like two animated sequels or at least novelizations.

  • Ohh sorry i forgot that Peter Jackson makes not his movies in ”stupid”Hollywood!
    I never forgetting when Peter Jackson was starting to work on Lord of the Rings and said ”we make the FX and special effects with our own Company Weta”everybody in Hollywood was laughing and arrogant and saying ”this will be a disaster”
    You remember!?

  • I don’t know who is the problem?
    Peter Jackson works like that all the time and plans reshoots!

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