As the world braced for financial disaster, Oscar-nominated director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu was saved by fateful timing.
Inarritu, the maker of Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel, began to shoot his new movie Biutiful starring Javier Bardem just as a scene-stealing recession strangled the film industry.
"Fortunately, my film was one of the last-limit projects greenlighted," Inarritu told WalletPop in a recent interview. "One month later, this film couldn't happen. It was greenlit in a completely different world. I was lucky I wasn't stopped."While Inarritu might be toasting his good fortune to see Biutiful to fruition, his film still faces iffy prospects. It's in Spanish and its gritty look at Barcelona's underbelly does not exactly make it the feel-good movie of the year. But it did earn the Oscar-winning Bardem (No Country for Old Men, Eat Pray Love), playing a street criminal and father with terminal cancer, a best actor prize at Cannes, along with award-season buzz as the movie nears its Dec. 29 opening.
"I knew what our consequences were, commercially speaking," Inarritu, also a producer, said. "I am not an idiot. Those are the things you have to be conscious of when you make a creative decision."
In desperation befitting the movie's economically-depressed setting, Inarritu began shooting in Barcelona in October 2008, as the global economy swirled into the toilet. His independent movies have generated 10 Academy Award nominations, and often attracted studios to help with distribution and advertising. But even his sterling reputation for creating dark, marketable films wasn't going to help Inarritu and his backers weather the downturn. He could feel it. He could smell it, too.
"Basically we started one month after the financial collapse," he recalled. "I was in Barcelona completely out of the L.A. industry. I just felt that from all the calls I was receiving from people, the industry had just collapsed. If it's true, then what the hell do I do? You felt the putrid smell of something that had just died."
It doesn't take a Hollywood insider to figure out that show biz is in a slump. The fiscal year 2009 represented the third straight year that global production of theatrically-released features declined, according to screendigest.com.
Inarritu doesn't need to see the numbers to know his film could have become another statistic.
"If I would pitch this film now with Javier Bardem or Brad Pitt, no matter what, this film would never have been done," he said. "That's the reality."
He doesn't see the atmosphere brightening any time soon. "For any filmmaker now, no matter whose name you have, everybody is struggling."
Director Alejandro Inarritu Barely Beat the Recession With New Film