The Martin Scorsese-Leonardo DiCaprio psychological thriller "Shutter Island," which opens this weekend, may have the look and budget of a splashy Hollywood production.
But the Paramount release, written by frequent James Cameron collaborator Laeta Kalogridis, began life as part of an initiative from production company Phoenix Pictures in which prominent writers are paid a comparatively low fee (the Writers Guild minimum, actually) to work on their passion projects.
It's a program that testifies both to Phoenix's risk-taking and the mindset of big-name writers willing to take less money to work on something they like -- and that they can develop without pesky studio intervention (at least until the studio buys it). "It's a very smart way of giving the writer a certain amount of artistic creative license, because you are in essence writing on spec with only the input of the producers," Kalogridis says. (If the film gets made, the writer gets his or her standard quote plus a bonus.)
After enlisting the writer and developing the script, Phoenix hires the director and draws up a budget and only then approaches a studio with the option to make the film. "We say, ‘Tell us whether you want to make it,' " says Medavoy. "As opposed to getting into an endless process with 20 opinions and getting endless notes. That's what we're trying to minimize."