It would become a flagship in the Amazon Prime Video series, with top Hollywood talent guiding what was seen as a key franchise for the e-commerce giant. However, cost overruns and creative differences plague a series that has quietly become one of the most expensive shows ever.
Meet Citadela global event series from avengers and gray man directors Joe and Anthony Russo and film and television writers Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec.
Telling multiple sources The Hollywood Reporter those differences in vision have led to the departure of half the creative team and have thrown the show – a spy thriller intended to launch local spin-offs – into a round of expensive reshoots.
Now, a seven-episode run that already netted at least $160 million adds $75 million, sources say, and is on track to become the second most expensive show ever made. Rising costs and new admissions come in when Amazon launches The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Powerwhich has the distinction of being heralded as the most expensive in television history, with rights alone costing $250 million and the cost of season one is at least $465 million.
The streaming wars have seen budgets for shows and movies soar in recent years as companies try to scam each other for streaming eyeballs. In case of Rings of Power, it may have worked, as the show received mostly rave reviews that also praised its on-screen production value. Though it’s too early to judge Citadel’s destiny, the struggles behind the scenes show how the pressure of such series can cause a rift in a creative partnership — and how there seems to be no ceiling on spending when looking for marquee series.
Citadel was a passion project for Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios, who was looking for a big title to make waves. And she got it: An avengersstyle spy show, featuring spies from key countries, coming together for the ultimate mission. And, even cooler, it would be a show that would generate local spin-offs, with the spy characters having their own adventures in their homeland. India, Italy and Mexico were among the countries targeted.
Citadel was founded and was given the green light with great fanfare, matching the talent involved. The Russo brothers, who would executive produce, were all the rage from their blockbuster back-to-back avengers movies. And Appelbaum and Nemec, part of the screenwriting collective known as Midnight Radio, were notable writers known for their critically acclaimed TV work and films such as Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The group was simpatico with the Russos, with a partnership that included a first look deal with the filmmakers’ company, AGBO.
Game of Thrones actor Richard Madden and Priyanka Chopra Jonas were cast as lead actors, with the actors spending most of 2021 filming the show, wrapping up in December.
It was then that the production team behind Citadel began to crumble into factions. According to sources, Amazon had some reservations about early footage, with the Russos being less involved due to a focus on their own expensive action project, gray man, skydiving. This created creative differences and led to two competing cuts, one pushed by the Russos, the other by Appelbaum and Nemec. As the weeks went on, other project commitments had reduced the creative camps to two opposing forces, Joe Russo and Appelbaum, the showrunner of the series.
Amazon chose to bet on the Russos and days before Christmas, Appelbaum was let loose. A source associated with the project says: “What should have happened was for Joe to turn to Josh and say, ‘Let’s get together and fix this’ instead of going alone. That’s not what partners are supposed to do.” to do.”
However, he was not the only one to leave. Brian Kirk, known for his work on Game of Thrones and Penny Terrible and who directed five of the seven episodes also left, as did line producer Sarah Bradshaw, among others.
Amazon had no comment on the budget or exits. Two insiders noted that while the budget grossed over $250 million, it included high COVID-19 costs, which were not taken into account when the series was initially green-lit. It also does not include significant tax credits for shooting in locations such as London.
AGBO had no comment. WME, which represents Appelbaum and Nemec, also had no comment.
Another insider said that cost overruns and show revisions have become more common in the television landscape in recent years. “A lot of shows suffer because executives are inexperienced for this level of production or dealing with performers,” says one TV veteran. Citadel’s scale was so complex that three units were fired at once, according to sources.
It’s unclear where and how the divergent visions for the show originated. One person familiar with the conflict said Appelbaum’s version of the pilot introduced the spies through a spectacular ski and hang gliding sequence, creating a spy-vs-spy situation before the story was forwarded five years later, with the heroes no memory of their previous occupation. Russo’s version, according to this source, started after that five years, jettisoning the action sequence.
In any case, AGBO is now in charge of Citadel, and Amazon hired David Weil to rewrite the show and provide more substantiation. Weil is best known as the creator of huntersAmazon’s well-received Nazi hunting show starring Logan Lerman and Al Pacino.
Thomas Sigel, an accomplished cinematographer who helmed two of the episodes of Citadel, officially took over directing the reshoots, which ran from spring to early summer. Sigel has a well-established history with the Russos. He was their director of photography on Cherrywhich they directed, and on Extraction, the action movie they produced. However, a source says that Joe Russo was very involved in the shoot. The show is now in post-production. No debut date has been set.
Appelbaum, Nemec and their Midnight Radio banner no longer have a first-look deal at AGBO. The duo retired from TV and went back to writing movies. Ironically, they are back in business with Amazon and working on a feature titled heads of state that’s what tied Idris Elba and John Cena to the star.
Behind the scenes events on Citadel confirm the reputation of the Russos as perhaps the least wasteful of filmmakers. Their recent movie, gray man, starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans, cost more than $250 million and was the most expensive film Netflix ever made. Even a small character drama, the Tom Holland starring Cherrybecame known for large cost overruns.
The filmmakers have earned enough goodwill to justify those budgets as directors of some of the greatest films of all time have avengers and Captain America franchises. about streaming, Extraction stands as Netflix’s sixth most-watched original film ever, while gray man is the fourth most-watched original, according to Netflix.
The filmmakers remain adept at finding companies that reach deep into their pockets, including for their latest, the sci-fi thriller titled electrical state. Like gray manit’s also being made for Netflix, but only after a budget dispute with Universal, the project’s previous home, led the studio to turn it around after the directors made it clear that $200 million wasn’t enough for their sci-fi -vision.