As we recently reported, there is a new book on the way about a subject I’ve always found interesting – the great unmade movies – genre and otherwise – in Hollywood history.
The book is titled “Tales From Development Hell” written by David Hughes, and the unmade flicks it covers include John Boorman’s version of Lord of the Rings, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman movie, and Darren Aronofsky’s Batman: Year One.
Richard Matheson, the legendary author of I Am Legend and Somewhere in Time once told me if you took all the un-made scripts in Hollywood, they’d pile up to the moon, and he knew from where he spoke considering how long it took to get the modern version of I Am Legend made. Matheson, who’s already in his eighties, also used to joke that I Am Legend will probably be remade three more times in his lifetime.
There’s obviously tons of unmade scripts all over the ‘Net that have become legendary, like the original Batman script written by Tom Mankiewicz (who scripted most of the 70’s James Bond flicks and did major rewrites on Superman I and II); Kevin Smith’s legendary Superman script that was going to star Nicholas Cage and Jim Carrey; Ken Russell, the director of Tommy and Altered States, version of Dracula that was going to star Alice Cooper in the ’70’s; Stanley Kubrick’s legendary biopic of Napoleon that was going to star Jack Nicholson, the sequel to Easy Rider, Biker Heaven; Howard Stern’s Fartman; the comedy sequel to Jaws, Jaws 3 People 0, written by Brat Pack genius John Hughes; Pure Evel, the long in gestation Evel Knievel biopic, and many more.
I’ve written about unmade projects before myself, and a lot of times screenwriters are superstitious about talking about unmade projects or contractually can’t talk about them, but I’ve spoken to several screenwriters over the years about several projects that never made the light of day.
You may recall when Gladiator became a huge hit, there were three or four Alexander the Great movies in development. Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote the Usual Suspects, had his Alexander project set up at Warners, but balked when the studio wanted Matthew McConaughey (who was then hot from A Time to Kill), while McQuarrie wanted a then unknown Jude Law.
Only the Oliver Stone movie made it to the screen, and McQuarrie, who co-wrote the script with Peter Buchman, eventually sold the project to Martin Scorsese, where Leonardo DiCaprio was apparently going to star.
“At that point, after everything we had done, we thought it might be a good time to sell,” Buchman says. “We tried for a number of years, we didn’t want to sell our script, but at this point handing the reins to those two felt like a wonderful thing.”
As Buchman continues, “I feel like the project has already been a huge success for me because it really got a lot of heat and attention my way, and I feel like it was a real achievement to finish a script that people seemed to respond to. Sometimes we have to take our successes in smaller steps than we’d like. So the combination of what this script did for me, what I learned in the process, how it then got me work down in Los Angeles, then actually selling the script, that all feels like success to me.”
Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, who wrote Ed Wood and adapted 1408, had a number of crazy biopics that didn’t make the screen including The Village People, The Marx Brothers, Billy Carter, and Rollen Stewart, aka Rainbow Head, the religious fanatic with the rainbow afro wig who held up the JOHN 3:16 sign at sporting events, and is currently in prison after a standoff with the police.
“We came up with the idea to tackle The Village People a long time ago,” says Karaszewski. “It was before we wrote Man on the Moon. Basically, the rights never cleared. It was years of negotiating. Various band members, various people owned copyrights, and it wound up being a big wheel spinner that never happened for anybody.” The project never even got to the script phase, but as Larry adds, “There’s a very solid, three page outline!”
Several times Scott and Larry found themselves talking about a project they’d love to write some day in passing, then see it become folklore in print. Alexander says, “There was a period where, particularly because our subjects tend to be about famous, strange people, where if we would circle a project, or we’d just tell someone, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be great to make a movie about The Village People?’ Then all of the sudden in the next Entertainment Weekly it would say: ‘Scott and Larry are doing The Village People,’ and they’d have a cut-out of Edward Norton’s head on top of the body of the construction worker!”
Although we’ll never see it on the big screen, The Village People would have been an ideal project for Scott and Larry not just because they are a strange group to memorialize in a film, but one theme that’s been prevalent in all their biopics is “where a guy believes in something so bizarre and wrongheaded, but he keeps on workin’, and it keeps on getting bigger, and bigger,” says Karaszewski.