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SHOOT FIRST (ASK QUESTIONS LATER)

ADRIFT IN THE DESERT BETWEEN DIRECTORS, THE COWBOYS OF ‘TOMBSTONE’ LEARNED HOW TO CALL THEIR OWN SHOTS

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It had come to this last August in the 110-in-the-shade heat of the Arizona desert: The director had been sent packing. The cinematographer had already quit three times, and his days still seemed numbered. The producer was trying to wrestle the script under control. The star was serving as a surrogate director while the new director struggled to get his bearings and avoid fainting again. And two of the film’s prime movers, their tempers boiling over, had crashed their golf carts into each other and had it out at top volume. The story of Tombstone, the upcoming Disney Western that stars Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp, is not a pretty one. But read closely. For there is a Hollywood moral to be learned from this, a jinxed movie in a year full of them. Despite rewrites, firings, walkouts, delays, frayed nerves, broken budgets, and clashes only slightly less brutal than the ones that graced the real O.K. Corral, Tombstone was completed in time for a holiday release. And despite all their disagreements, everyone involved in the movie will tell you the same thing: That’s show business. Last January, it didn’t look as if Tombstone, written by Kevin Jarre (Glory), who was hoping to direct for the first time, would ever be made. As far as the industry was concerned, Kevin Costner had effectively trumped the project when he announced his own big-budget Earp film for Warner Bros. (his Wyatt Earp, directed by Lawrence Kasdan, is due in theaters next summer). Jarre, 37, was devastated: Only a year before, Universal had shelved & his beloved Dracula screenplay when Francis Coppola announced his own version. Costner’s move was ”an attempt to crush my picture,” he said at the time. Jarre and his producing partners, James Jacks and Sean Daniel, knew they had one advantage over Wyatt Earp: Their Tombstone, a retelling of the events surrounding the 1881 gunfight at the O.K. Corral, was ready to shoot, if only they could cast it. But with Michael Ovitz’s mighty Creative Artists Agency backing Costner, the producers could not land a star with enough wattage to satisfy any studio. They finally cracked the A list when a William Morris agent slipped the script to CAA client Kurt Russell, who grabbed the chance to play Earp. With Russell in the saddle, the filmmakers were able to sign an enthusiastic ensemble that included Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Michael Biehn, and Powers Boothe. Russell took the package to financier Andrew Vajna’s Cinergi Productions (Medicine Man), which distributes its films through Disney, and Vajna agreed to make Tombstone for $25 million. Last May, the Tombstone shoot began on locations around Tucson, Ariz., 70 miles from the original Tombstone, with a nervous director at the helm and a very nervous moneyman watching from the wings. ”If we weren’t afraid with a first-time director,” says Vajna, ”we’d all be nuts.” It didn’t take long for the Tombstone cast and crew to figure out that Jarre the director was not doing well by Jarre the writer. According to sources on the set, Jarre wasn’t thinking visually and shunned most help, including advice from his own cinematographer, the six-time Oscar nominee William Fraker (WarGames). ”I knew from the third day Kevin couldn’t direct,” says Sam Elliott. ”He wasn’t getting the shots he needed.” ”The (backers) don’t seem to be real happy,” Jarre told Russell in one low moment. Indeed, they weren’t. ”Kevin was shooting in an unconventional, old- fashioned, John Ford style, with very few close-ups,” says producer Jacks. ”Andy Vajna and others finally felt that when Kevin was finished, the movie wouldn’t work.” But some cast and crew members believe that Tombstone’s too- tight shooting schedule stacked the deck against Jarre. ”From the beginning they allotted too little time to do this movie,” says actor Michael Rooker (Cliffhanger). ”Kevin was trying to do it in the amount of time contracted for, which was way underestimated. No way in hell.” After four weeks during which he says he gave Jarre every chance to improve, Vajna fired him. ”There was no goodbye,” says Powers Boothe. ”Kevin was incredibly crushed.” With the production reeling from the loss of its director, the Tombstone cast and crew closed ranks in their desire to finish the film. ”We had all turned down other projects,” says Boothe. ”So when it came down that they were pulling the plug, we all agreed, ‘Let’s do the damn movie.”’ When Jarre’s replacement, George Cosmatos (Rambo: First Blood, Part II), arrived on the set with only three days’ preparation, Russell and Val Kilmer met with him and came to an understanding: Cosmatos would concentrate on finishing the movie on schedule while Russell would ride herd on cutting the unwieldy script and overseeing the 85-member cast. After a tension-fraught month, Russell found himself acting as a combination of star, director, producer, and rallying spirit. Russell and Jacks immediately took pen to script and started trimming Tombstone’s scenes to concentrate on the relationship between Earp and Kilmer’s Doc Holliday. ”Wyatt and Doc is one of the great love affairs of all time between two men,” Russell says. ”It’s a strange, tough, violent, deep relationship.” Cosmatos agreed that the Wyatt-Doc relationship was at the center of the movie, but some of Russell’s castmates regretted losing so much of the rest of the story. ”Initially, the screenplay was one of the best I’ve ever read,” Sam Elliott explains with a low rumble. ”If I was given the screenplay as it is now, I’d have to pass on it. They took 29 pages out of it, eliminated the connective tissue, took the character development out.” While Elliott and others slyly snuck cut dialogue back into their scenes, Russell assumed the role of cast spokesman. ”The shoot (wasn’t tough) because Kurt is a very straight-ahead kind of guy with amazing energy,” says Kilmer, who believes that Russell deserves a producer’s credit. ”He’s very good about structure and a character’s function. He’ll discuss and anticipate things. We had so many powerful actors, it could easily have become a feeding frenzy of sharks going for their own.” As Russell and Jacks pared the script, Cosmatos made some changes of his own and wound up reshooting virtually the entire movie. (The final film features only about 15 bits and pieces shot by Jarre.) He brightened the film’s washed-out palette by perking up the colors on some of the sets, opened up the Oriental saloon into two rooms, and added an opening Mexican wedding/ massacre sequence and two action montages in the last half hour. In the wake of Cosmatos’ arrival, 17 crew members (including two script supervisors and half the art department) left for other jobs, quit outright, or were fired by the volatile newcomer. ”He got everybody charged up,” says production designer Catherine Hardwicke (Posse), who was happy to stay because she felt Cosmatos improved the visuals. ”He was demanding. Some people freaked out.” Under the stress of Cosmatos’ cojones-cracking, cinematographer Fraker quit three times. At one point, according to eyewitnesses, the two men rammed their golf carts into each other and had a screaming match. Jacks finally persuaded the lensman to stick around. ”If I wasn’t happy with what was on the screen, it would be entirely different,” says Fraker. ”But I think we have a movie.” Tombstone finally wrapped Aug. 29, after 88 days of shooting and an extra $2 or $3 million. Rushing to finish the movie for the Christmas Day opening mandated by Disney, the filmmakers are relieved that they managed to pull a two-hour commercial release together. But they remain painfully aware of the film they didn’t make. ”There was a great movie to be cut from the footage,” says Jacks, who was shut out of the editing process, ”and everyone did their best in a shortened postproduction period. The result is a good movie, but it isn’t the movie Kevin set out to make.” Of all of Tombstone’s combat-weary participants, the one who wears his wounds most happily might be Russell, who, after 29 movies as an actor, has discovered his taste for directing-even unofficially. ”I don’t know if Kevin would have been able to realize the film he had in his mind,” he says. ”We might still be shooting his movie. I helped him by making sure we got the movie made. And I feel good about it. We busted our ass.” ”It was an uphill battle,” admits producer Sean Daniel. Making the movie ”has weighed on all of us. While Tombstone has emerged in a strong way, we all have scars to show for it.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is show business. *