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Ready for 2010, a crop of movies shot back in 2008


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POSTED: Tuesday, December 29, 2009

LOS ANGELES—Go to a new movie in early 2010, and chances are good you'll end up with an eyeful of 2008. And the star you see promoting that film may look a wee bit older than the one up there on the screen.

 

Thanks to some deliberate scheduling bumps and the lingering effect of Hollywood's long-past writers' strike, a surprising number of the new year's first releases—from major studios like Paramount and Universal as well as from minimajors like Lionsgate and the Weinstein Co.—were actually shot about two years ago.

Through the holidays, the market has been peppered with timelier movies. Those included “;It's Complicated,”; a tale of middle-aged romance filmed earlier this year, and “;Up in the Air,”; which wrapped principal photography in the spring and managed to capture the country's dour mood with its recession-themed story line.

But the crop of movies for the first quarter of 2010 are not quite so new.

“;Youth in Revolt,”; from Weinstein Co. and its Dimension Films division, got its green light in spring 2008, when its star, Michael Cera, was still a teenager, and not much older than his character, the lovesick Nick Twisp. But Cera will be just five months shy of his 22nd birthday when the movie is released on Jan. 8, and has appeared in four films since “;Youth in Revolt”; was shot.

“;Green Zone,”; an Iraq war drama from Universal Pictures and Working Title Films scheduled to be released on March 12, was shot in early 2008. At the time, George W. Bush was president, the war was still on everyone's mind and the movie's star, Matt Damon, was more than a year away from going to work on “;Invictus,”; which weeks ago leapfrogged over “;Green Zone”; into theaters.

Even older is “;Daybreakers,”; a futuristic vampire thriller starring Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe, set for release in early January. As the film was being shot in 2007, Heath Ledger was working on his Oscar-winning performance in “;The Dark Knight,”; and Michael Jackson was nearly two years away from announcing a comeback tour that would become the subject of a posthumous movie long since released by Sony Pictures.

At least 16 of the 28 films set for release by Hollywood's major studios and larger independent studios in the first quarter finished shooting in 2008 or earlier, according to a schedule from Exhibitor Relations. About 70 percent date of those companies' releases in January and February date to 2008 or earlier.

Studio films typically hit the market about a year after principal photography begins, though elaborate productions like Fox's “;Avatar,”; which began shooting in 2007, can require months of additional work on editing and special effects.

But much of this 2010 crop is at least six months older than usual. By April that trend will fade, as companies begin releasing fresher fare, like “;Wall Street 2,”; set for release by Fox on April 23, though Oliver Stone finished shooting it only last month.

The older movies bunched up, partly because studios delayed releasing films that would have competed in a crowded Oscar season. They will instead try their luck in the midwinter months, which this year produced a surprising number of hits, including the modestly budgeted thriller “;Taken”; and the comedy “;Paul Blart: Mall Cop.”;

Angling for the winter audience, Paramount moved the wide release of Peter Jackson's “;Lovely Bones”; to January from December, after a limited run to qualify for the 2009 Oscars, and bumped Martin Scorsese's “;Shutter Island”; to Feb. 19 from a planned October date.

In a recent interview, Brad Grey, Paramount's chairman, said it was not easy telling Scorsese that his movie would sit on the shelf for a while. “;I had to make a difficult judgment, and I did, and I explained that to Marty,”; he said of the decision to let “;Shutter Island,”; shot in mid-2008, slide into 2010.

Despite a good a good year at the box office, the film economy remained weak because of falling DVD sales, and that, Grey said, made such decisions inevitable. In exchange for what he called the “;privilege”; of making distinguished films, “;you have to deliver, and should deliver, for the shareholders.”;

That slightly older films have clustered in the coming quarter also owes something to a frenzy of activity that preceded the three-month writers' strike that began in late 2007. Studio executives stockpiled scripts, then quickly shot a spate of films that are still working their way through the system.

“;Green Zone”; was part of that surge, as were “;The Wolfman”; and “;Repo Men,”; a pair of 2008 movies set for release by Universal in the next few months.

Conventional wisdom says that films are damaged by delay, either because the audience begins to suspect trouble or simply because the culture at large moves on.

“;The Adventures of Pluto Nash”; and “;Town & Country,”; two notorious flops, weren't helped by long delays between principal photography and release dates.

Yet a public outcry over a decision by Warner Brothers to hold “;Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”; for a half-year did not keep it from taking in $302 million at the domestic box office when it was finally released this July.

David Permut, the producer of “;Youth in Revolt,”; said he was at ease with the decision to bump his movie from a planned release in October to January.

“;Think about not going up against that onslaught of Oscar movies,”; Permut said.

Besides, he added, delay is nothing new for “;Youth in Revolt,”; which is based on a series of books written by C.D. Payne and published in 1993.

“;It's traveled a 17-year course to find its way to the screen,”; he said.

“;A few extra months don't mean much.”;