Starting to film a big-budget blockbuster sequel without a finished script can understandably make one dubious. It’s a bit like a civil engineer telling a line of traffic, “Just keep driving, I’m sure the bridge will be finished once you reach the end.” Hence the swirling rumors and skepticism surrounding Men in Black III, which began production on its first act before the rest of the story was firmly in place. But the film’s director, Barry Sonnenfeld, appears confident that the film’s unusual shooting schedule — and much publicized four-month hiatus — won’t affect the final product.
“If you read everything we read about Titanic, or Avatar, there’s no way one could have expected that those movies would be as good as they were,” Sonnenfeld told EW in January. “It’s fun to read about that stuff, and I like to read about it and decipher how much of it is true or not, but it’s really about if the movie works at the end of the day.” He points to one of the classic examples of a bad shoot resulting in a great film, one directed by MiB executive producer Steven Spielberg, no less. “Spiely went like 100 days over schedule on Jaws. And we all know how that turned out.”
The trouble began when producers were unsatisfied with the latest draft of the script, but needed to pin down a start date in order to essentially call dibs on Will Smith, the one truly indispensable aspect of the franchise. “We did not have a script that we were ready to shoot,” said Sonnenfeld. “And [Sony chairman] Amy Pascal very wisely, felt, ‘You’ve got the biggest movie star in the world, you’ve got a first act that’s working, and you’ve got the ability to start a movie and make it Will’s next movie. I’m going to take a chance, get through the first act, go on hiatus so we can continue to write, but I can guarantee, even though it’s going to cost us some additional money, that Will Smith’s next movie will be our movie.’”
But the hiatus that was supposed to end in mid-February 2011 ended up stretching into April, as the film’s multiple creative forces — including Sonnenfeld, Smith, and mega-producers Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald — tried to bang out a script that pleased everyone, or at least didn’t gravely offend anyone. “You know, we all felt really strongly about our versions,” said Sonnenfeld. “It was Walter and Laurie on one side, Will on another side, me on another side, and the various writers that came in and out on another, and we all equally felt that our way was the only way.” He then added, “Yet we managed to end up agreeing and making a really good movie.”
Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and Men in Black III doesn’t hit theaters until May 25. It’s very possible that Sonnenfeld’s confidence will be vindicated, although if there’s one thing this saga has shown us, much like the Men in Black films themselves, it’s that there’s a whole lot of interesting stuff going on right there behind closed doors.