After 15 weeks of shooting at Hungary's Stern Studios in Pomaz (www.sternstudios.com), Nutcrakcer - The Untold Story has completed both principal and second-unit photography.
Described by producer Paul Lowin as "possibly the largest independently financed production ever," it is certainly Andrei Konchalovsky's most ambitious project to date.
Shooting wrapped on Oct 29, two weeks later than originally scheduled. With post-production costs added, Nutcracker comes in well over the originally announced $65 million (€49 million). Lowin estimated the cost at around $80 million, partly due to the weak dollar.
In an exclusive interview given to FNE on location, executive producer Moritz Borman (World Trade Center, Terminator 3, Alexander), called it a "smart move" to locate the whole shoot in Hungary.
"The 20% tax rebate worked well for us," he said. "We didn't go to the new Korda Studios (www.kordastudio.hu) because they weren't fully finished - they only have three of the sound stages - and Hellboy 2 was already there."
British, Canadian, Hungarian sources furnished the budget, 75 % of which goes to below-the-line (physical) costs and 25 % above (principal talents and CGI). Several houses around the world will be contracted for creating the special effects, since only 60% of the film's visuals consist of physical sets.
Nutcracker has been a labor of love for Konchalovsky, who tried to get it off the ground for eight years. Lowin came on board two years ago and the two orchestrated the financing, whereas Boorman was instrumental in keeping in touch with Hollywood in terms of casting and finding the appropriate domestic distributor.
"There are a couple of studios that are interested and we are talking to them," he said. No pre-sales were arranged by the film's worldwide sales agent, U.K.'s Odyssey Entertainment (www.odysseyfilmsonline.com) in order to retain as much creative freedom for the filmmakers as possible.
Based on Konchalovsky's own script, which was commissioned by Anthony Asquith some 30 years ago, the 70-year-old director brings a comic-book atmosphere to the famous E.T.A. Hoffmann fairy tale. In his pop culture-inspired retelling, the evil rats rise from the underworld to seize control over city and destroy all toys - much in the style of Tim Burton's Batman.
The producers are positive that despite a grim mid-section in the film, children won't be scared away. "The target group is going to be parents and young kids, pre-teenage," says Boorman. Added Lowin: "Slapstick for kids, clever remarks for adults."
The film has its comical touches: The uncle (Nathan Lane) is an Albert Einstein lookalike while the Rat King (John Turturro) could double for Andy Warhol.
The production required the largest set-construction call in Hungary since Alliance (now www.allianceatlantis.com) built a life-sized replica of the Notre Dame's facade for the TV-movie The Hunchback (1997) at MAFILM's Fot Studios (www.mafilm.hu).
Nutcracker used up 400 rubber noses, 800 rubber costumes and 10,000 prop toys and hired 5,500 Hungarian extras in all. For the dance of the snowflakes, the filmmakers employed state-of-the-art "motion capture" technology locally.
"The film will be evergreen on DVD and TV. It doesn't depend on fashion," Borman said. "We are thinking about doing an 3D IMAX version, too." Nutrcacker aims for a year-end release date in 2008, with an eye not only on the holiday movie-going period but the awards season as well. "I'd be very surprised if the designers and Tim Rice's song wouldn't get nominated," Boorman said. Rice's single song uses only scant sections of Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony and the 1st Piano Concerto.
Konchalovsky contractually has final cut on the film.