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The most troubled film in Hollywood

The most troubled film in Hollywood–How the Warren Beatty flick ”Town and Country” turned into a producing nightmare

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First Gerard Depardieu was forced to drop out after a motorcycle accident. Then 10 reels of the film were stolen and never recovered. Next the shoot — which started in June 1998 — stretched into 2000 as the budget leapt from $55 million to $78 million.

And the movie isn’t even finished yet.

Such is the state of the Warren Beatty-Diane Keaton romantic comedy Town and Country, a film widely considered to be one of the most troubled projects in Hollywood, one that’s planned and missed 11 — yes, 11 — release dates. When asked about the status, a source close to its studio offers just one word: ”Debacle.”

In fact, rumors about the New Line movie are so downright ugly (Beatty clashed with the director; the screenplay still isn’t finished; the budget is actually over $100 million and New Line will never make its money back), they’ve left the studio in denial mode.

So how did this breezy confection turn into such a mess? The problems started in early ’98, when New Line brought the screenplay by Michael Laughlin (Mesmerized) to director Peter Chelsom (The Mighty) and producer Simon Fields. At that time Beatty was already attached to play Porter Stoddard — a middle-aged man who dabbles with infidelity before learning to appreciate his marriage. By the spring, the project had attracted such high-ticket talent as Keaton, Goldie Hawn, and Garry Shandling (who replaced the injured Depardieu), causing the budget to swell and script problems to surface.

”The presence of those actors demanded a different kind of script,” says Fields, who explains the characters had to be tweaked to better suit the stars. ”So Laughlin started reworking and we started shooting in June 1998 without a finished screenplay.”

As Laughlin scrambled to tap out an ending, another problem loomed: Keaton, who had signed to play Beatty’s jilted wife, had a contractual ”stop date” in November ’98 to direct Hanging Up with Meg Ryan and Lisa Kudrow. Ditto Shandling, to star in What Planet Are You From?, and supporting player Jenna Elfman, to return to Dharma & Greg. After a five-month shoot — which saw two days’ film swiped from the back of a delivery van — November rolled around, and the flick still wasn’t finished to director Chelsom’s satisfaction.

He cut a print anyway and handed it off to the studio. ”The part that suffered the most from not having a locked script was the ending,” New Line president of productions Michael De Luca says of that version. ”We had test screenings that summer where three quarters of the movie played great and the ending was by far the weakest part.”

Audiences weren’t buying Beatty remarrying Keaton after their first-act divorce. So in came two screenwriters — Paul Attanasio (Donnie Brasco), followed by Buck Henry (To Die For) — to rework the final act. Meanwhile, Fields and Chelsom sat tight, waiting for a chance to reassemble the cast to shoot the new finale. ”That window just opened,” says Fields. ”We’ll start April 10.”