How Brad Pitt’s ‘World War Z’ Averted Total Train Wreck

Brad Pitt on Vanity Fair
Brad Pitt on Vanity Fair

The main story we've been hearing about Brad Pitt's big-budget zombie epic "World War Z" is that the film was a troubled production. And now we know how troubled.

An upcoming issue of Vanity Fair, in which Pitt appears on the cover, shows the behind-the-scenes story of "Z" is in fact a messy one. Pitt and the film's creative team say they've turned disaster into what they believe is a potential blockbuster, but not without revealing the mistakes they made along the way.

The piece suggests a project that was big from the start and grew out of control once cameras started to roll. Screenwriter Damon Lindelof, who worked on the film, said he was brought in by Pitt (who produced "World War Z" as well as playing the lead role) after initial shooting was completed.

"He took me through how excited he was when he read [Max Brooks' novel, on which the film is based], what was exciting for him, the geopolitical aspect of it," Lindelof said of his first meeting with Pitt. However, Pitt and director Marc Forster were so eager to strike while the iron was hot that they started shooting before screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan had finished his script. Lindelof says Pitt told him, "[W]hen we started working on the script, a lot of that stuff had to fall away for the story to come together. We started shooting the thing before we locked down how it was going to end up, and it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to."

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There was also a major challenge they faced. The film needed to get a PG-13 rating. "Brad wanted to go for it,” says a person involved in the film, a Vanity Fair source. "The question was: How graphic can it be and get the rating?" Pitt, this individual said, was concerned mostly with aesthetics. "He just wanted it to be cool."

Once Forster screened his first cut of the movie for Pitt and Paramount Pictures' studio brass, no one was happy with what they saw, according to the article. Marc Evans, president of production for Paramount, said, "It was, like, Wow. The ending of our movie doesn't work. I believed in that moment we needed to reshoot the movie."

This didn't come as good news after what was reportedly a long, contentious, and mismanaged shoot. The article quotes sources that say Pitt and Forster didn't communicate well during production and seemed to have different approaches regarding the material. And after shooting wrapped in Malta, members of the production team found purchase orders that confirmed several million dollars had been spent without proper authorization by the cast and crew.

Shooting resumed under tighter reigns when producer Ian Bryce came aboard as the crew moved on to Scotland, but by the time filming was done and Forster screened his first cut of the movie, the cost was close to $200 million. When Lindelof suggested a major rewrite that would change the ending, restructure the story, and reshoot nearly forty minutes of new footage, he was expecting Paramount to reject the idea. To his surprise, they agreed with him.

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"They completely and totally embraced the emotional ideas and the character ideas that were going to really help center the movie on Gerry and prevent him from spinning off into 'save the world' syndrome," Lindelof said.

Once rewrites were completed, Forster went back to work with a smaller crew to complete the new scenes, according to Vanity Fair. The director now sounds confident about what was done to avoid disaster. "I didn’t feel like it was a big drama," Forster said. "I feel like, yes, the ending didn’t work. Yes, we all thought it was going to work. Yes, we decided it's not the right ending. Yes, we decided to change it and spend more money. Yes, it never happened to me before on any of my other movies. But I think this movie is more original and bigger and more special than I have ever done before."

While it's not unusual for reports of a movie's difficult production to surface before its release, the Vanity Fair piece on "World War Z" is one of the few cases where the principle creative figures behind a big-budget movie have spoken so openly about their problems in the midst of a pre-release publicity blitz.

Perhaps Pitt and Forster believe that honesty is the best form of damage control, and they have enough faith in the overhauled "World War Z" that they don't mind talking about the long road it took to get there.

We'll all find out how successful they are when the movie opens on June 21.

Also on Vanity Fair:

Two Decades of Brad Pitt | International Best-Dressed List | Classic Nude Portraits: Lady Gaga, Angeline Jolie, Jennifer Aniston | Kate Middleton: Best-Dressed Pregnant Lady? | The Great Gatsby: Behind the Scenes

Watch 'World War Z' Theatrical Trailer: