"Kill Bill," director Quentin Tarantino's upcoming tale of martial arts derring-do, starring Uma Thurman as an assassin bent on avenging herself by stalking David Carradine as the titular Bill, has just morphed from one film into two.
The unexpected move from Miramax Films necessarily garnered its share of entertainment press headlines. For unlike recent films that, by design, have been shot back-to-back -- such as New Line Cinema's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy and Warner Bros. Pictures' "The Matrix Reloaded" and upcoming "The Matrix Revolutions" -- the bifurcating of "Bill" was not planned from the start but instead evolved after Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein reviewed the footage that Tarantino had assembled.
Current plans call for the first installment of "Kill Bill" to roll out Oct. 10, as planned, and then the second half to arrive some months later at a date still to be determined.
But as iconoclastic as the decision appears, it is not without precedent.
In fact, back in the early 1970s, the high-flying producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind pulled off a similar gambit. The movie involved was "The Three Musketeers," a period romp based on the venerable Alexandre Dumas tale starring a cast of luminaries that included Richard Chamberlain, Raquel Welch, Michael York and Faye Dunaway. With Richard Lester of "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!" at the helm, it also included plenty of slapstick and period pratfalls.
And in the case of the dueling "Musketeers," sometime after principal photography was completed, the producers decided they had so much footage on their hands that they had almost too much of a potentially good thing. And so they simply carved it up into two films, "The Three Musketeers," which was released in 1973, and "The Four Musketeers," which followed a year later.
That decision, though, caught the actors -- who initially weren't offered any additional compensation -- off guard. Arguing that they had only been paid to toil on one movie, a number of the actors filed suit, and a settlement was ultimately reached.
But the contretemps had one lasting effect on the movie business: In its wake, SAG formulated a new rule, informally known as the Salkind clause, that became part of the guild's standard contract.
Basically, the provision stipulates that when actors are hired to work on a film, as far as SAG is concerned they are bargaining for one performance in one film only.
In the case of the recent "Matrix" movies, for example, because the producers knew going in that they planned to produce two films, SAG actors bargained for separate appearances in each movie. The rationale, explains Sallie Weaver, SAG's deputy national executive director on contracts, "is that residuals flow separately from each movie, and the pension and health contributions get made on each movie separately."
In the case of a movie like "Kill Bill," which becomes two movies after the fact, SAG requires a new round of bargaining for actors appearing in the second installment.
Since "Kill Bill" was filmed under SAG auspices, Miramax will now have to work out new deals with the SAG actors on the project, and, in fact, the company has already indicated that it is in the process of renegotiating with the film's principals.
But whatever the eventual fate of "Kill Bill" at the nation's megaplexes, one thing is certain: It's not likely to have any lasting impact on all that contractual boilerplate.
So don't expect to see the creation of a Weinstein clause. Alexander Salkind already beat him to it.