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Feature Film Case Study

Competitive world people live in makes it difficult to find the project that has a value. Sales figures the American Gangster enjoyed suggest that this movie is such the project. At the start of working on the project, the production companies set the budget target for this criminal drama that turned out to be too low for the script draft Zillian offered; and these companies tried several times to find the director who can modify the script and meet the budget target. Analyzing the outcomes from a professional point of view, they understood the following. Zillian’s view of the script as an interplay of corporate business and race is the source of the value in the American Gangster project.

It was 2000 when Imagine Entertainment, as well as Universal Pictures, made a deal with New York magazine regarding Mark Jacobson’s narrative “The Return of Superfly”. The story describes the Frank Lucas’s career. He used to be a drug dealer notorious in the seventieth of the past century (Kleinknecht). Film director Ridley Scott got interested in the plot and asked his colleague Steven Zaillian to bring him a script for two movies. In 2002, the former received the piece of work that was 170 pages long. Nevertheless, Scott was reluctant to work on the project and switched to coping with Kingdom of Heaven. One year later, the companies mentioned above started talking business with Brian De Palma regarding the work on Zaillian’s script based on a real sequence of events about a gangster (Fleming; Rottenberg). Zallian wanted to show the role race prejudices play in American corporate business and offered “American Business and Race” as the movie title (Leland). The parts agreed to commence as early as Spring 2004 (Fleming, “U is re-Imagined”). Nevertheless, the team started a new series of talks with Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington regarding directing the film and staring in it as Frank Lucas respectively in March 2004 (Snyder and Fleming). In May 2004, Benicio del Tore joined the talks in the hope of staring as Detective Richie Roberts in the film and the studio scheduled the start of the production to be in September 2004 (Fleming, “Del Toro’s ‘Tru’”). By that month, the team switched to “American Gangster” name for the future movie and Dania Ramirez joined the talks with the hope of becoming one of the actors (“Ramirez Joining”).

Universal claimed that it approved the film assuming $ 80 million as the overall cost. However, it became as high as $ 93 million. The company asserted that the development incurred additional $ 10 million and the rescheduling entailed extra $ 3 million. However, the Fugua’s team insisted that $ 93 million was the initial deal (Ascher-Walsh and Jensen). Universal preferred Toronto to New York City as the place of production due to financial considerations, but the director was not content with Toronto. Universal is a subsidiary of General Electric and the latter enjoys taxation privileges in New York City (Ascher-Walsh and Jensen). Therefore, this city became the new place of production. Unfortunately, the switch added extra $5 million to the budget.  Although Fuqua claimed that, he did all he could to cut the costs; the company was not OK with a few more things (Ascher-Walsh and Jensen). Specifically, it contended Thailand as the director’s choice for the place to shoot the part that takes place in Vietnam. Another aspect was the director’s decision to assign only supporting roles for broadly known actors (Ascher-Walsh and Jensen). Moreover, experiencing budget pressure from the company Fuqua kept making changes in the script as a part of the preparation for the production. Finally, the director was not fully prepared to start the process in terms of final choices for places and minor actors (Ascher-Walsh and Jensen). As a result, in 2004, at the beginning of October, the studio dismissed Fuqua (Ascher-Walsh and Jensen). Universal classified his leave as the one that occurred due to creative differences (Fleming, “Fuqua ankles”). Before stopping working on the film the company upon Denzel Washington’s commendation negotiated with Peter Berg regarding his possible directing the movie (Ascher-Walsh and Jensen). Nevertheless, it stopped its quest for making the film due to anticipation of substantial losses and declared the lack of time and creativeness as an official excuse for the cancelation (Fleming, “American Gangster’ Pic”). Universal had to pay $ 30 million cancelation fee. Specifically, Denzel Washington received $ 20 million and  Benicio del Toro received $ 5 million thanks to specifics of their contracts (Ascher-Walsh and Jensen). Terry George’s readiness to cut the script and to direct the process assuming $ 50 million budget returned Imagine Entertainment and Universal Pictures to the negotiation table in March 2005 (Fleming, “U’s Still High”). Imagine and Universal made the preliminary agreement with Will Smith regarding his staring as Frank Lucas if George will be good enough at modifying the script (Fleming, “Thesp’s ‘American’”). However, when Terry George got rid of many personages, exotic locations, and valuable scenes; he still did not meet the target value of the budget and faced the opposition from the producer Brian Grazer who was not content with what George had done (Eller; Whipp).  When Steven Zaillian cooperated with Riddle Scott in the work on another piece of art, the former reminded the latter about the unfinished business and Scott agreed to commence working on the project. Imagine, as well as Grazer, was not content with George’s progress on the script and decided to return to the initial version (Fleming, “U Gets Going on”). In February 2006, Scott started negotiations with the company regarding his possible directing the film that assumes Zaillian’s version of the script. Following this event, Denzel Washington and Russel Crowe agreed to star as Lucas and Roberts respectively (Fleming, “Gangster’ Redux”). The studio scheduled the process to start in summer 2006. The new director analyzed all versions of the script and decided to stick to the very first one due to specifics of Zillian’s approach (Douglas). The script was challenging for Scott since two main characters Roberts and Lucas interacted only in the last twenty minutes of the movie. The director made sure that numbers of scenes with each main character are approximately equal (Douglas). Besides, Scott decided to enrich personal lives of these personages through describing how Frank Lucas treated his family and how Richie Roberts dealt with consequences of the divorce, he had experienced (Douglas). Moreover, to win the favor of teenagers, the new director invited the popular rappers in the cast (Halbinger and Leeds). In March 2006, the company made a deal with Zaillian about rewriting the script for the movie in hand (Fleming, “U Gets Going on”). The budget became as large as $ 100 million that was too high for the gangster film according to the producer (Rottenberg). The director and Grazer compensated the company $ 3 million for not complying with the target budget (Eller).

In July 2006, the filming started (Whipp). It was remarkable thanks to the record-breaking number of locations involved. Specifically, there were 180 of them predominantly within New York. It took four months to shoot the film (Douglas). During two of them the shooting took place in New York and covered all its major jurisdictions including more than 50 places in Harlem. The director noticed that it is easy to find places in New York that look just like they did in the forties of the past century (Douglas). The team spent significant efforts to find places in New York that remained unchanged since the seventies (Universal Pictures). It was uncomfortable to work in obsolete buildings. Besides, the restoration that took place in Harlem created technical issues with filming (Douglas). The process often resembled guerrilla fighting due to extensive use of hand-held cameras. Filming took place in Old Westbury Gardens, the Brooklyn Supreme Courthouse and other locations (Universal Pictures). In November 2006, the team moved to Thailand to film scenes in Asian locations. In December 2006, the team completed filming in Chiang Mai (“Thailand Beckons”). The director remembered very well how New York looked in the seventies and depicted Harlem as a shabby place full of buildings that are on the edge of collapsing (Douglas). The team paid great attention to clothing and fashion. Particularly, Denzel Washington enjoyed wearing 64 different apparels during the shooting of all scenes in which he participated (Schwartz).

It was 2006 when the team chose Greg Calloway as a candidate for a composer of the music for the film. Calloway showed the stuff he prepared for this occasion to Atlantic Records (Calloway). Subsequently, rapper T. I., who had the contract with the company, became a supporting actor in the movie. However, Universal did not accept giving up the rights to the music (Calloway). And Scot had to ask his acquaintance Marc Streitenfeld to help him out with the music stuff.  The music turned out to be of a kind popular in the seventieth and matched the main personages’ strong personalities (Gwin). Streitenfeld took advantage of an 80-piece orchestra to record the music in the second half of the Spring 2007. Hank Shocklee added a few masterpieces to the bulk of the recorded music material (.Goldwasser).

Def Jam Recordings made the soundtrack for the movie become available for the general public in a few days after the film’s premier. In addition to the above mentioned stuff, it included a few more songs in the style of the seventies (Halbinger and Leeds). Both Grazer and Scott agreed that choosing the music that corresponds to the time and place of the action has a great value (Universal Pictures). For instance, Washington promoted rapper Jay-Z as a composer for the movie, and Grazer refused using his view on the matter as an excuse (Halbinger and Leeds). However, the team used Jay-Z’s song in the movie’s trailer and invited him to watch the sneak preview. The movie inspired Jay-Z to record an album filled with songs written in response to different scenes of the film (Universal Pictures). Since the title of the album is the same as the one of the movie, some folks argued that linking its release to the one of the movie could be appealing to youngsters and might increase the revenue figures for Universal notably (Halbinger and Leeds).

On October 20, 2007, the premier occurred at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre (“American Gangster’ Premier”). Although more than two weeks before this event, the pirated copy of the film appeared online (“’American Gangster’ Leaked”); the movie turned out to be a successful project collecting $ 266.5 million in theaters all over the world including $ 130.2 million in the domestic ones. In ranking in terms of such the collections American Gangster was on the nineteenth place among US movies released in 2007 (“American Gangster (2007)”). It was February 19, 2008, when the movie became legally available on DVDs including its HD format version. DVDs contained the extra version of American Gangster with additional 18 minutes of action and different final scenes (McCutcheon). In ranking in terms of collections from DVD sales, the movie turned out to be on the fourteenth place (“Top-Selling DVDs 2008.”). The release of Jay-Z’s American Gangster album on November 6, 2007 and the one of the film based mobile clone of the very popular game Grand Theft Auto on November 1, 2007 could boost the final revenue of the project through enticing gamers and teens to watch the movie (last.fm; Roush).

Thus, in 2000 Universal and Imagine bought the rights to the masterpiece “The Return of Superfly”. In 2002, Zillian came up with the script for the movie based on this true story. In it, he strived to show influences race issues exert on corporate business and the draft turned out to be 170 pages long. In 2004, Universal invited Antoine Fuqua to be the director assuming the initial budget target in the amount of $ 80 million taking into account that criminal dramas are not as lucrative in sales as fantasy films and comedies. However, he was not OK with the script and kept modifying it. Besides, he had difficulties with meeting the budget target. In the same year, the studio asked him to leave due to creative difference excuse and subsequently canceled the project. However, in 2005 Universal and Imagine revived the project thanks to Terry George, who agreed to modify the script meeting $50 million budget target. However, in 2006 he ended up with stuff that was not OK with the producer Brian Grazer. Nevertheless, Imagine and Universal did not cancel the project this time inviting Ridley Scott as a new director. He liked the Zilligan’s script from the very beginning and after analyzing other versions decided to stick to it. In 2007, he came up with the blockbuster. Scott used the trick of inviting popular rappers in the cast to lure the young audience. However, the main source of value in the case of this project is Zilligan’s view of the central theme. In fact, the audience became so intrigued regarding the matter that supplying the legal DVD containing original version of the movie with the additional one 18 minutes longer and with the alternative ending contributed to significantly better performance of the product on the market. Specifically, the box office collections of the standard version of the movie earned it the nineteenth place among the US films released in 2007 whereas the size of DVD sales positioned the movie on the fourteenth place among American films on DVDs released in 2008. However, the fact that the online appearance of the pirated version of the movie preceded the premier could contribute to this trend too.  Nevertheless, the releases of the Jay-Z’s American Gangster album the film inspired and of the movie based mobile clone of Grand Theft Auto within a few weeks after the premier could alleviate the consequences of this appearance.
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