flower moon script changes

Martin Scorsese‘s upcoming Killers of the Flower Moon has the great director working with two of his most famous collaborators, Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio. You’d think that would be enough to sell any studio on the project, but Paramount had serious issues with Scorsese’s $200 million-plus budget. In order to get the film made, Scorsese took the movie to Apple, who will pay the budget in full while Paramount remains involved only as a partner. So what happened? Why did Paramount end up getting cold feet? A new report reveals that the studio got nervous when DiCaprio decided to change the character he was playing.

The movie landscape has changed drastically over the years. These days, if you’re not making a franchise film or a superhero sequel, studios are very hesitant to dish out a large budget. Even being Martin Scorsese, one of the best living directors, isn’t enough to inspire much studio confidence. Case in point: Scorsese’s upcoming Killers of the Flower Moon was originally set up at Paramount, but the studio got nervous about the ballooning budget. So much so that they allowed the film to look for additional funds elsewhere.

According to a report in THR, Paramount was likely bluffing, hoping that no other studio would go for the deal, thus inspiring Scorsese to lower his budget. But that plan backfired because Apple stepped in and is now paying the budget in full and claiming to be the “creative studio” on the film, while Paramount is now just a partner.

(At this point, we’re going to delve into details from the original non-fiction book that some may consider a spoiler. Proceed with caution.)

But why would Paramount be so hesitant to shell out big bucks for a new Scorsese movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio? Apparently it all has to do with marketability. When the project was still being put together, DiCaprio was set to star as the film’s hero. If the movie adaptation is sticking true to the book, and the true story that inspired it, that indicates DiCaprio was going to play a Texas Ranger named Tom White who was tasked with investigating a series of murders plaguing the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma in the 1920s (the THR story doesn’t name DiCaprio’s original character, so this is just some guesswork on my part, having read the book).

However, plans changed:

Sources say things changed when the director and his star decided to revise the script. Originally DiCaprio was playing the good guy working for the then-nascent FBI. In the revised version, DiCaprio would portray villain Robert De Niro’s nephew, torn between love and the evil machinations of his uncle. A source with knowledge of the situation says Paramount felt that turned the film into a moody and less commercial character study — “smaller scale; same budget.”

This implies De Niro is playing William Hale, a cattleman who was convicted of ordering the murders, and that DiCaprio is now playing Ernest Hale, who married native Osage Mollie Kile.

In the end, Paramount was more comfortable funding a movie where DiCaprio played a good guy rather than someone who exists in a morally gray area, probably because they assumed that would be more marketable. Now, Paramount will get a distribution fee based on the film’s box-office performance while Apple takes care of everything else.

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