Even if you've never bought a lottery ticket in your life, you've probably found yourself lingering at the counter at the gas station a little bit longer this week, eyeing that Mega Millions total that just keeps going up, up and up. As of the time I write this, it's at $640 million, by far the record for a lottery jackpot. Presumably one person, or a couple of people, will win that jackpot today, and even after taxes will find themselves insanely wealthy, with the kind of cash that can get you anything. Like an airplane, or 10 houses, or a fleet of yachts… or, if you're thinking really big, a movie.
Very, very few movies cost $640 million, or even the $300 million you'd be left with after taxes. And movies that big tend to get funded by a lot of people, or at least a very wealthy studio with a lot on the line-- and pretty much whenever you've got that many people putting in that much money, compromises get made. Just look at John Carter, which probably cost around $300 million, and even though it was made by a visionary like Andrew Stanton, it seemed to be whittled away and focused grouped into nothing, ruined by people who didn't want to take a risk. On the other hand you've got James Cameron, who basically self-funded Avatar and didn't have to answer to much of anybody. You already know the kind of rewards he got for that.
So say you're James Cameron, you've got $300 million to burn, and you can make a movie for that much money-- assuming that then a studio will pick it up and cover the marketing costs, because hey, we're fantasizing here. What movie would you make? If you're reasonable, you use that money to make a ton of movies, bringing in all your favorite filmmakers to fund their wildest ideas, giving Paul Thomas Anderson the chance to do whatever he wants, letting Terry Gilliam finally finish his Don Quixote movie, whatever. Or you can think Cameron-style and go big, make the expensive, crazy movie no one else will. What huge movie will you make?
My answer is easy, and probably wouldn't cost nearly $300 million. I'd adapt Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, my favorite novel of all time and one that in sections is incredibly cinematic. It's been through the wringer of attempted Hollywood adaptations in the past, though all attempts to adapt it are dead in the water. And it's no surprise that it's never happened-- the book is about two cousins in pre-World War II New York who create a comic book character called The Escapist, but the story meanders from Prague to Los Angeles to Antarctica, and a lot of its beauty is in Chabon's writing. But there are irresistible characters and stories in it that would translate beautifully to screen-- that is, if anybody did it right.
Because this is my fantasy, of course I'd do it right. I'd hire the right actors-- not Natalie Portman as Rosa!-- and make sure Chabon helped with the adaptation but was also willing to make the right cuts (you can probably reduce the Antarctica story a whole lot). I'd hire the right director, no matter the cost, and spend lavishly to recreate the period New York setting. I'd definitely hire Armie Hammer to play Tracy Bacon, and I'd milk every second out of the Citizen Kane scene. I'd take a thorny, incredibly rich book and give it the long adaptation it deserves-- which takes the kind of money only a crazy lottery winner can provide.
Now it's your turn. What huge, crazy movie would you finance with your lotto winnings? Be careful what you pick when you comment-- if you wind up being the Mega Millions winner, we're going to hold you to whatever you suggest here.