‘Red One’ Down: How Dwayne Johnson’s Tardiness Led to a $250 Million Runaway Production | Exclusive

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For more than two decades, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has nurtured a reputation as a hard-working, musclebound action-comedy movie star with considerable box-office drawing power. But “Red One,” a high-powered Christmas crowd-pleaser for Amazon MGM, has turned into a massive budgetary misadventure, casting Johnson’s fame and work ethic in a different light.

Originally slated for release during the 2023 Christmas season, the “Red One” theatrical release has been delayed to November 2024 — supposedly due to last year’s labor strikes.

But the real story is a lot messier.

Production issues — ranging from Johnson’s chronic lateness and lack of professionalism on set to producers’ inexperience — caused costs on the movie costarring Chris Evans and J.K. Simmons to spiral upwards to a final budget over $250 million, a sum more fitting for a superhero tentpole.

According to more than a dozen insiders directly involved in the project, the “Red One” production was a perfect storm of problems compounded by the inexperience of the film’s lead producer Hiram Garcia of Seven Bucks Productions and Amazon MGM feature and production executives Julie Rapaport and Glenn Gainor, who are overseeing the project.

Insiders told TheWrap that Johnson showed up as much as eight hours late to set on the movie — forcing the crew to shoot around him on some days. On previous films, Johnson has made a habit of peeing in a water bottle to save time, upsetting crew members.

“On set, away from his trailer, if he needs to pee, he doesn’t go to the public bathroom,” one insider who knows the movie star well said. “He pees in a Voss water bottle and his team or a PA has to dispose of it.”

Amazon was hoping to launch a potential franchise with “Red One,” which is about a villain who kidnaps Santa Claus from the North Pole, after which an E.L.F. (Extremely Large and Formidable) operative joins forces with a bounty hunter to find Santa and save Christmas. The script was written by frequent collaborator Chris Morgan (a longtime “Fast & Furious” scribe) and directed by Johnson regular Jake Kasdan (the “Jumanji” movies).

At its first-ever CinemaCon this year, Amazon MGM took the unusual step of premiering footage from the film to a small group of journalists handpicked by Johnson’s publicist, Meredith O’Sullivan. The journalists were shown about 10 minutes of footage, but not allowed to write about what they saw.

While it’s common for studios to strategically reveal selected scenes, the complete media blackout surrounding the “Red One” footage suggests that Amazon is aware that it will have a rocky road to its delayed release.

In a statement to TheWrap, a spokesperson for Amazon MGM denied there were any on-set issues with “Red One” or delays caused by Johnson’s lateness or Seven Bucks’ inexperience which caused the film budget to balloon.

“Dwayne Johnson and Seven Bucks have been incredible partners on ‘Red One’—a film that audiences of all ages are going to love this holiday season,” the spokesperson said. “Our testing has been very strong — the reaction from CinemaCon speaks for itself — and we couldn’t have made it without Dwayne’s constant work and support. Any reporting that implies that we got to this point with him showing up seven-eight hours late to set is both ridiculous and false.”

The film is the latest behind-the-scenes drama to plague the Amazon MGM film unit. It comes on the heels of the highly publicized clashes between director Doug Liman and producer Joel Silver during the production of the “Road House” remake, whose controversy was extended by allegations of AI usage and questions about the film’s underlying copyrights.

The “Red One” tension also comes as Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke is attempting to get Amazon MGM’s theatrical output on stable footing, and it intensifies doubts about the young studio’s ability to effectively become a formidable player in the theatrical space.

“The Rock” is late

Johnson, who advocates for himself as “the hardest worker in the room,” has developed a reputation in the industry for his lateness and lack of professionalism on set, according to multiple insiders who spoke to TheWrap.

Said one “Red One” insider: “The only thing Dwayne was consistent at was being chronically late.”

The examples of Johnson’s tardiness are numerous and well-documented, from showing up late to fan events to leaving entire sets idle while he was off doing three-hour workouts.

Earlier this month, he was three hours late arriving ahead of his main event match at WrestleMania 40, two insiders told TheWrap. For WWE World, a WWE fan event in Philadelphia leading up to WrestleMania 40, Johnson showed up two hours behind schedule, drawing boos from the crowd and criticism from the local Philadelphia press.

According to a WWE insider, Johnson’s late arrival was due to other WWE commitments, as well as traffic in Philadelphia on the way to the WWE World venue in Center City.

“You’re booing because The Rock was a little late, that’s why you’re booing?” Johnson asked the crowd. “[The Rock] was watching YouTube, watching [Eagles quarterback] Jalen Hurts lose in the playoffs again.”

Playing to his heel persona, Johnson added: “You boo because it’s the truth. Now, The Rock has shown up, you got greatness in front of you. You stand there, shut your mouth and enjoy the ride that The Rock is taking you on.”

Chris Legentil, WWE’s executive vice president for talent relations and head of communications, told TheWrap, “Dwayne was not only on time for WrestleMania, he was hours early to help with rehearsal — and a pleasure to work with throughout the entire run.”

On the set of “Red One,” Johnson’s pattern of lateness proved more damaging.

Johnson was late an average of seven to eight hours per day and missed several entire days of production, ballooning costs by at least $50 million according to three insiders who insisted on anonymity for fear of being fired.

“It was a f–king disaster,” one insider said. On days when Johnson didn’t show up at all, the production crew was forced to shoot around him, the insiders added.

“Dwayne truly doesn’t give a f–k,” one insider bluntly said.

In response to questions from TheWrap, two sources close to the production and one close to Seven Bucks all insisted that Johnson averaged no more than one hour late to the “Red One” set.

One source close to Amazon MGM said the budget never veered far from the figure Amazon green lit the movie at — $250 million. “It is completely normal for there to be budget fluctuations within 15% of the target, which is exactly what we experienced,” the person said.

Production start dates on “Red One” were postponed twice due to Johnson’s commitments to the “Young Rock” series, the XFL’s relaunch and the extensive “Black Adam” press tour, which he hoped would position him as a major player in the DC Comics/Warner Bros. universe. (It did not.) After shooting for a week in August, production on “Red One” resumed in November 2022.

Johnson’s tardiness has been an issue for a number of years. “They rent a location they can shoot as much as they can of other actors while they wait for him to decide if he’s coming to set,” a producer who visited the set of HBO’s “Ballers” told TheWrap. A former production assistant on the show corroborated this, saying, “He was regularly three to four hours late to set. Keeping 100+ crew members waiting for no reason.” According to a third insider, in March of 2017 Johnson was six hours late to the “Ballers” set.

On the set of 2018’s “Rampage,” Johnson was late an average of four to five hours daily, with one costar keeping records of his tardiness, according to two insiders. “Dwayne’s call times are never, ever published on the call sheet,” one of the insiders added. “It’s because one of the actors on ‘Rampage’ was keeping a log of how late DJ was to set every day.” (A spokesperson for Johnson did not respond to a request for comment late Monday about “Rampage” and “Ballers.”)

The reasons behind Johnson’s perpetual lateness seem to stem from his refusal to work a full shooting day, despite factoring in his three-hour daily workout routine. “It’s his absolute refusal to work more than a four-or five-hour day,” a studio insider added. Another insider suggested, “It’s a control thing.”

Dwayne Johnson on “Ballers” (HBO)
Dwayne Johnson on “Ballers” (HBO)

Johnson’s behavior has led to confrontations with costars, most famously Vin Diesel. “Vin has been having problems with The Rock because The Rock keeps showing up late for production,” an insider told People during their work together on the “Fast & Furious” franchise. “Sometimes he doesn’t show up at all, and he’s delaying the production.”

During production in the fall of 2020 on Netflix’s similarly titled “Red Notice,” Ryan Reynolds was so infuriated after waiting five hours for Johnson that they had a “huge fight,” according to insiders. Johnson then stormed off set. The two stars didn’t speak for years until they recently patched things up. (“Red Notice” received a sequel order from Netflix in 2022, but there has been little movement on the project since that time.)

“Dwayne is the consummate professional and we’re thrilled to have worked with him on ‘Red Notice,’ our #1 film,” a Netflix spokesperson told TheWrap.

A spokesperson for Reynolds did not respond to TheWrap’s request for comment.

Insiders also accused Johnson of breaking strict quarantine rules on the set of “Red Notice,” whose cast and crew were sequestered, by flying home in a private jet. “He was frequently flying home and breaking the extremely strict rules of the bubble,” according to an insider. Johnson himself posted about working a 14-hour day, only to delete it — which the IATSE Stories Instagram account resurfaced — after crew members called out his hypocrisy, with one writing, “He got to host family and friends for a BBQ, and wound up getting COVID anyway. Most selfish thing I’ve ever seen an actor do.”

An individual close to production denied that Johnson broke quarantine rules. “Nothing he did was in violation of COVID protocols,” the individual said.

Crew members working on Johnson productions tend to make their guild minimums to qualify for health insurance. One crew member on “Ballers” who spoke to TheWrap, said, “because of a 14-plus-hour day on location, where he did not come out of his trailer to come to set until after 3 p.m. on a 7 a.m. call, I qualified for health insurance.”

Personal pee bottles

Beyond his disregard for the shooting schedule, Johnson upset crew members with his odd personal demands.

The Voss urine bottle first made its appearance in a 2017 Instagram story and was later expanded upon in a magazine story, taking the shape of Johnson’s usual anecdotes — macho posturing mixed with his don’t-I-work-so-hard folksiness. “I usually stay pretty hydrated. I need to go to the bathroom a lot. Not a lot, but probably a couple of times during every workout I have to go to the bathroom. So I break out the bottle,” Johnson told Esquire, making the habit a bizarre badge of honor.

A crew member on the IATSE Stories post called out Johnson in 2021 for his Voss pee bottle: “Nevermind what you expect the PA’s to clean up after you (what is it you put in your empty water bottles?!?!)”

TheWrap did not speak to any insiders who said this occurred on “Red One,” and two people close to the production denied to TheWrap that Johnson had ever asked a production assistant or other member of his team to dispose of a bottle of his urine on set. “He would never ask another person to dispose of something like that,” one of these individuals said.

Insiders also accused Johnson of using some of the “Red Notice” movie budget for his personal production company. According to two insiders, the team from Johnson’s Seven Bucks Productions tacked on an entire XFL promotional shoot that added two days after the “Red Notice” marketing shoot.

An insider added that the marketing shoot for “Red Notice” was “probably footing the bill for him to shoot promo material for the XFL and Teremana,” Johnson’s liquor brand.

A second insider confirmed the report and added: “This would happen all the time and he would tack on these shoots and have the production company that was hired by the studio stay late, shoot it and deliver footage.”

A person close to Seven Bucks denied that any “Red One” funds were diverted to Johnson’s personal production company. “If we had lights already set up for the production we would use those,” the person said. “But we never used movie budgets for those. We would bring in crew to do it.”

Hiram Garcia and Dwayne Johnson
Hiram Garcia and Dwayne Johnson (Eric Charbonneau/Getty Images for Warner Bros.)

Hiram Garcia as “Turtle”

Hiram Garcia, the brother of Johnson’s ex-wife and business partner Dany Garcia, started out as Johnson’s personal assistant on the set of 2002’s “The Scorpion King,” his first major star vehicle and a spin-off based on Johnson’s brief appearance in “The Mummy Returns.” After that production wrapped, Garcia returned to his hometown of Miami to become an assistant on commercial shoots, according to insiders.

Years later, Garcia returned to become Johnson’s full-time assistant, where he was responsible for prepping Johnson’s meals and making sure he had water on set.

According to a Universal insider, Garcia got upped to “creative assistant” on the set of 2011’s “Fast Five,” where he only had one job: to work for Johnson.

Garcia was promoted to president of production at Seven Bucks in 2017, according to Deadline. However, according to numerous insiders who have dealt with Garcia firsthand, he is incapable of leading physical production.

“Hiram went from making Dwayne’s protein shakes to running his company,” the Universal insider said regarding Hiram’s meteoric rise.

“If Vince [from ‘Entourage’] tried to give Turtle a real job, Hiram Garcia is what you get as a result,” according to a top agency insider.

Despite working side-by-side and frequently shadowing seasoned producers for years on large-scale studio productions, “Hiram still has no idea how to produce,” the top agency insider added. “The only thing he has ever known is how to work for Dwayne. Any time he’s been in a situation where his responsibilities have expanded beyond DJ, he has crumbled.”

A person close to Seven Bucks noted to TheWrap that Garcia was a PGA-accredited producer with 14 years of experience producing movies. When pressed for movie credits that didn’t have to do with Johnson, the person cited 2019’s “Shazam!”

An Amazon MGM Studios spokesperson said, “Hiram Garcia, who conceived the original idea for this film, is an incredibly talented, diligent and responsive producer who brought a wealth of experience to our production.”

One insider said Garcia “rarely ever knows the schedule on his own projects,” instead relying entirely on his assistant or other producers to keep track of filming schedules. A second insider added: “He should have picked up on how to keep track of a schedule and budget, but I haven’t seen him take any interest in doing that.”

Matters all came to a head in 2022 when Johnson and Dany Garcia met with Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav on not only inserting Superman back into “Black Adam,” but according to four insiders with knowledge of the meeting, positioning Seven Bucks to run DC and replace then-chief Walter Hamada.

An individual close to Seven Bucks said the meeting was about “Black Adam” and an introduction to Zaslav who had just taken over the studio. This person denied that the meeting was aimed to pitch Hiram Garcia as a replacement for Hamada.

Garcia wasn’t hired to run the unit, and Johnson and Seven Bucks were evicted from DC shortly after the hiring of James Gunn and Peter Safran to run the division. Additionally, former Superman actor Henry Cavill fired Dany Garcia as his manager as a result.

Hiram Garcia initially conceived the story for “Red One,” which was ultimately scripted by Morgan. With DC in the rearview, Garcia’s singular focus became “Red One.”

Amazon MGM was caught off guard when it was clear that Garcia was to be the film’s lead producer, according to insiders.

According to Garcia’s critics, he was hired because he wouldn’t “ruffle any feathers” with Johnson.

Amazon’s big swing

But Garcia isn’t the only one responsible for the “Red One” situation.

For Amazon’s film division, the movie, which was originally slated for streaming, was a huge leap. A veteran production insider who worked on “Red One” said the inexperience of Amazon MGM’s top executives overseeing the project was a problem. “Amazon MGM weren’t prepared,” the production insider told TheWrap. “The people working there are as inexperienced as the producers.”

Rapaport joined Amazon in 2015 from the Weinstein Company, where she worked in production and development. At Amazon, she worked as senior manager of development, production and acquisitions, overseeing the likes of “Beautiful Boy” starring Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet, as well as Richard Linklater’s “Last Flag Flying” and Mike White’s “Brad’s Status.”

But she does not have a track record with producing big budget projects like “Red One.”

As for Amazon MGM’s head of physical production Glenn Gainor, the production insider said: “He comes from the low-budget, Sony background, who dealt with $15 million movies, $20 million max, then suddenly has to deal with a $200 million movie.” The learning curve, perhaps, was a bit steeper than imagined.

The insider, used to working with experienced studios like Paramount, Universal and Warner Bros., said production personnel would repeatedly warn Amazon MGM about impending issues, only to be ignored. “They brushed it away and said ‘We’re going to keep it under control,’ which they didn’t,” said the insider. “How are you going to keep this under control? You’re not. It’s just not how things work.”

“You cannot make a movie where your above-the-line is more than half of the budget than what your actual production budget is,” the insider criticized. “That’s always a recipe for disaster because you need the money to actually make the movie, especially when you have big stars like Dwayne Johnson and Chris Evans.”

Rapaport was called out by production insiders for her inexperience. “She was so green. In the studio system you have the senior execs and the junior execs. To me, Julie was a junior exec, even though she was supposed to be a senior exec. Nobody on the Amazon MGM side was able to handle this kind of movie,” the insider said.

Matters came to head in late January 2023 when Rapaport flew down to the Atlanta set of “Red One” to try to get a handle on Johnson. According to an insider, Salke, the Amazon Studios chief, decided to fly in with Rapaport. Johnson’s chief marketing officer Maya Lasry flew down to Atlanta as well.

On March 1, 2023, former Warner Bros. production executive Courtenay Valenti was named head of film, streaming and theatrical for Amazon and MGM Studios, shortly after “Red One” wrapped in Atlanta and headed to Hawaii.

Amazon disputed that its executives did not manage the production properly, saying representatives from the studio were on set throughout the production.

All that said, if the movie is good, all of these issues will likely disappear.

But the production insider claimed “it clearly doesn’t” look worthy of its price tag. “It should look like a $200 million-plus movie, but it doesn’t, because more than half goes to buyouts of the stars and the above-the-line,” the production insider said.

“When movies look cheap, people nowadays pick up on it,” the insider added. “Amazon MGM have so many movies that nobody’s concentrating on what actually needs to get done. Given their volume, they can’t concentrate — if nobody else keeps them informed, then it’s also just a recipe for disaster.”

The Rock’s future

Johnson’s last two would-be blockbusters — the non-IP action movie “Skyscraper” in 2018 and the DC comic book adaptation “Black Adam” last year — underperformed critically and commercially.

Next up for Johnson is A24’s “The Smashing Machine,” a biopic about UFC fighter Mark Kerr that will be directed by Ben Safdie. Johnson is set to star alongside his “Jungle Cruise” costar Emily Blunt. However, one insider warned, “Benny has NO clue what he’s gotten himself into.”

“The Smashing Machine” is currently scheduled to shoot from May to August, but the same insider expressed skepticism that the production will proceed smoothly or stick to that schedule.

But unlike Amazon MGM, A24 doesn’t have $200 million to burn on an ego-driven, runaway production. Could the indie darling finally be the one to rein him in?

The post ‘Red One’ Down: How Dwayne Johnson’s Tardiness Led to a $250 Million Runaway Production | Exclusive appeared first on TheWrap.