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''Mission Impossible 2'' mired problems

The sequel to Tom Cruise’ blockbuster film loses its director of photography amidst a myriad of production mishaps

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You thought the plot of the first Mission: Impossible was confusing? Try sorting out the news bubbling up from the Sydney set of Paramount’s Mission: Impossible 2, the highly anticipated sequel starring Tom Cruise and directed by John Woo (Face/Off). On May 17, Mission 2‘s director of photography, Andrew Lesnie (Babe), resigned from the project over what Paramount calls ”stylistic differences” (Lesnie did not return calls) and was quickly replaced by Jeffrey Kimball (Wild Things). Lesnie’s departure is only the latest in a series of personnel changes. Last fall, production designer Owen Paterson left for undisclosed reasons. And in March, production manager Julia Ritchie departed because of a scheduling conflict that arose after the film’s start date was pushed back three weeks. Taken together, this Mission‘s assorted hiccups have sent rumor mills into overdrive.

Early reports about the cause of the production’s woes cited everything from script problems to budget overruns, which were said to have reached $100 million plus. According to one Paramount executive, the start date postponement was forced because a finished script hadn’t even been delivered at the time. Also, a former crew member reports that the production was so disorganized, people on the set took to calling it ”the impossible mission.” As for Lesnie’s departure, a source close to Woo says the cinematographer split because he was uncomfortable with Woo’s rapid-fire shooting style.

Officially, Paramount insists that Lesnie’s departure was ”very amicable” and that the change will not cause any delays. Adds Fiona Searson, Mission‘s unit publicist: ”John has his way of working, and Andrew had his.” A studio spokesperson also says the budget is nowhere near triple digits; sources say currently the figure is closer to $80 million. As for the production delay, Cruise’s publicist, Pat Kingsley, says the script was complete, and the holdup was caused because some sets had yet to be finished. ”It’s a very happy set,” concludes Searson. ”The crew really likes Tom, and John is doing a great job. So there are no dramas.”

(with reporting by Judith I. Brennan and Katherine Tulich)