Tales From Development Hell Makes Devilish Reading
Written by: David Hughes
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: March 1, 2007
Genres: Humor, Entertainment, Movies
“This script is perfect! Who can we get to rewrite it?’
This Hollywood cliche, exemplifying the often mystifying tendency among producers and studio executives to meddle with scripts, resonates throughout David Hughes’ latest book, Tales From Development Hell.
For every movie that makes it, there are so many more that don’t, and Hughes has the deets on a collection of incredible production nightmares and lost projects that will keep you turning the pages with fascination – and at times – high amusement.
In a series of detailed and well researched stories, Hughes sets out to illustrate just how difficult it is to get a movie made in Hollywood.
You’ll feel a pang of regret for some (James Cameron’s Fantastic Voyage, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman adaptation) and a sense of relief at others – The Lord of the Rings, as directed by John Boorman and starring all four of the Beatles as Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin, or Darren Aronofsky’s would-be Batman movie starring Clint Eastwood in the title role.
So what mired these and other projects in Development Hell? With anecdotal evidence from a series of script researchers, screenwriters, production assistants, producers and sometimes even the actors themselves, Hughes exposes the endless rewrites, A-List actor demands for more screen time (or their co-star’s best lines!) and bizarre behaviors that scuppered the chances of several potentially major Hollywood projects.
One of the most fascinating chapters ‘We Can Rewrite it For you Wholesale’ concerns the sequel to Total Recall, which initially began life as Minority Report (which later went on to become a free-standing movie its own right staring Tom Cruise and Colin Farrell).
The following excerpt from the book tells how in setting out to produce a sequel capable of delivering as many twists and turns as its predecessor, Total Recall 2 ended up another casualty of development hell instead.
Tales From Development Hell From Titan Books is available in bookstores now.
Today, the box office performance of Total Recall would virtually guarantee a sequel. In 1990, however, Hollywood was a very different place, as [Gary] Goldman explains: “When we finished Total Recall, none of the major players wanted to make a sequel. They all felt that the franchise wasn’t well suited to a sequel. They also held the previously accepted idea that sequels were commercial debasements that serious artists did not indulge in.” The success of James Cameron’s Aliens had been an exception, and the same director’s subsequent sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day would further change this way of thinking. At the time, however, Shusett’s and Goldman’s interest in a sequel to Total Recall fell on deaf ears.
Then, in the early 1990s, Goldman optioned another Philip K. Dick story, ‘Minority Report’, with a view to directing it himself as a low-budget feature. He approached Verhoeven to ask if he would attach himself as executive producer, thus throwing the weight of his name behind the project, even if he was not directly involved. “He read the short story, liked it, and agreed to help me out. Then he asked me if I had thought about how well the story worked as a Total Recall sequel. Although it had nothing to do with the themes of the movie, there was something about the tone and driving narrative that made it seem perfect for a sequel.” Better still, it did not repeat anything from the original film, allowing Goldman to take the franchise in a totally new direction, but one that would be thematically consistent with the original. “This is what appealed to Paul,” he says. “The possibility of doing a sequel that seemed original, not repetitive or derivative.”
In Dick’s story, certain human beings are born with telepathic powers, shunned by ordinary citizens but embraced by the government as the foundation for a new anti-crime organisation called the Pre-Crime division, which uses the telepaths (known as ‘pre-cogs’) to predict illegal activities before they occur, and arrest the would-be criminals before any crime is committed. The plot revolves around a particular Pre-Crime detective forced to go on the run when the pre-cogs spit out his name as a future murderer. As Verhoeven explains, “There was an introduction [in Total Recall] that the mutants were perhaps clairvoyant, and that was used in the idea for the second one where Quaid becomes the head of this company that can look into the future and protect citizens by eliminating criminals before they do the crime.” Thus, the mutants would become the ‘pre-cogs’ of Dick’s story, the film rights to which Goldman now owned.
“I had to make a tough decision between continuing with my plan to direct a small movie from ‘Minority Report’, or to become the writer-producer of a Total Recall sequel based on ‘Minority Report’,” Goldman says. “At the time, I was still working closely with Paul and Carolco. We had worked together on Basic Instinct, which had turned out to be the biggest movie of the year worldwide, and I had done a rewrite on Crusade which had gotten the project out of Development Hell and into pre-production [see chapter 6]. It seemed like the Total Recall sequel was a sure thing to speed into production, and become another big hit. So I decided that it was too good an opportunity to pass up.” At this point, Goldman and Verhoeven discovered that Ron Shusett had a contractual right to write the first draft of any Total Recall sequel, and that they would therefore need his permission to proceed. Goldman proposed that they write the sequel together, based on the ‘Minority Report’ story, on the proviso that Goldman would then be attached to co-write all future Total Recall sequels. Says Shusett, “We worked on it together and immediately clicked, and it became a wonderful sequel. Arnold was going to star in it, and Paul Verhoeven was going to direct it. Then, right after we wrote it, Carolco went bankrupt.” Indeed, Carolco’s financial situation was so serious it reneged on its contractual payments to Shusett and Goldman. As a result, ownership of the underlying rights — to both the short story and the first draft — reverted to the writers, allowing them to move it to 20th Century Fox.
By this time, Verhoeven was busy shooting Showgirls, and Goldman says he lost interest in the sequel. Not so, says Verhoeven: “Somebody whose name I won’t name, without warning, took it away — somebody who had me on their pay list, like a Judas. So in some subversive ways, I think, it left Carolco and it came into the hands of Jan De Bont.” At this stage, Verhoeven’s fellow Dutchman was a celebrated cinematographer, yet to direct the runaway hit Speed. Says Goldman, “Jan and the studio discussed acquiring the Total Recall franchise from Carolco, and continuing to develop ‘Minority Report’ as a Total Recall sequel. Ultimately, they decided not to continue with it as a sequel, so we removed all the Total Recall elements and used the first draft as the foundation for further work.” From that point on, ‘Minority Report’ was developed as a free-standing movie, based only on the Dick short story. Says Shusett, “We were really devastated, because we had proved tangibly to everybody, including Paul and Arnold, that it would make a great sequel. But my spirits rose when Fox bought it as a non-sequel, a free-standing movie.”
Even after its estrangement from Total Recall 2 and development as a separate entity, Minority Report suffered a further five years in Development Hell, with Jan De Bont eventually jumping ship, as Shusett recalls: “He was very hot from Speed and he’d followed up with Twister, but then Speed 2 and The Haunting bombed out, and gradually Fox lost faith in him. We wrote a new draft for him in ’95, but they couldn’t find an actor that liked his draft that Fox was in favour of too. It was years later — ’98 or ’99 — that Spielberg came in and read a draft he didn’t like. But when we personally got our draft to him, and persuaded him to read it, he did like it. And then he used an amalgamation of some of their draft and some of our draft and his own ideas, and because he’s Steven Spielberg, his version was better in many ways, and he made the best film of all.” Shusett — who, like Goldman, earned an executive producer credit on Spielberg’s film (Jan De Bont gets an associate producer credit) — admits to being surprised that the director’s take on the material was so dark, “even darker than our last draft. It was so dark that I think summer audiences weren’t ready for it. We should have released it in the winter, and then I think they might have expected it, and been able to handle it. It was too dark a movie for people expecting summer fun with a Total Recall/Phil Dick name on it, and our names connected to it — they thought it would be like Total Recall. And instead it was more like Blade Runner and they weren’t ready for that.” Indeed, although Minority Report (2002) grossed $350 million worldwide, it fell far short of expectations generated by the first teaming of Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise, especially on a sci-fi project. “It got wonderful reviews, and everybody thought it would do $500 or $600 million worldwide,” Shusett points out, “but it only made $350 million — and only $130 million in America, when there are movies making $200, $300 million domestically.”
In the meantime, Carolco had sold the Total Recall TV rights to DFL Entertainment for $1.2 million, resulting in the short-lived Showtime series Total Recall 2070. The sale led Shusett and Goldman to believe that the possibility of a Total Recall sequel was dead forever, since studios rarely buy into a script or film, much less a franchise, unless all rights are available in all media. Nevertheless, at a subsequent bankruptcy hearing for now-defunct Carolco on 14 January 1997, Dimension Films, the recently-formed genre division of Disney subsidiary Miramax Films, paid $3.15 million for the theatrical sequel, prequel and remake rights to Total Recall. “I heard later that they were surprised that the TV rights had already been sold off,” says Goldman. “They thought that was part of the package of rights that they acquired.” (Indeed, pressure from Dimension may have been behind DFL’s decision to ditch its original concept for the TV series — a direct continuation of the movie, featuring Quaid on Mars — for an Earth-based format using new characters, which ironically owed more to Blade Runner than Total Recall.) In what Carolco bankruptcy counsel Howard Weg described as “lively bidding”, Dimension had outbid DFL Entertainment, 20th Century Fox (which retired from the bidding when it reached $500,000) and Live Entertainment, whose final bid of $3.14 million was narrowly exceeded by Dimension, which had recently produced its first bona fide hit, Scream. “This is the perfect franchise opportunity for Dimension,” said co-founder Bob Weinstein, “[and] franchises are what Dimension is all about.”
Weinstein went on to say that he intended to contact the film’s original cast, but not its director Paul Verhoeven, whose most recent film was the costly flop Showgirls. “We’re going to our Miramax stable of directors,” he stated. “We have discussed story ideas, we have a concept, and we’re going forward with this film within the next year.” Weinstein dismissed suggestions that a sequel to the $80 million Total Recall would be expensive by definition, noting that significant profit participation on Scream made the $14 million-budget hit possible, and that the same financial structure — forgoing an upfront fee in return for a share of the back end profits — would make Total Recall 2 viable. Nevertheless, purchasing the rights, particularly for such a colossal sum, was a curious move for Dimension, since under the terms of a deal with corporate parent Walt Disney Co, the average budget of its films must be $12.5 million. Thus, if one film’s budget exceeds this sum, another must fall under it by the same amount. As a result, Dimension would need to generate a screenplay as cheaply as possible, and executives were delighted when a writer already under contract to Miramax offered his services.
Matt Cirulnick had just turned twenty-two when he signed a three-picture deal with Miramax, the first of which was the urban drug drama Paid in Full, eventually released in October 2002. “Immediately after turning in that script, Miramax informed my agents that they wanted to activate the second picture in my deal,” the writer recalls. “My agent gave me an open writing assignment list, and — lo and behold — on the list I see Total Recall 2. So I flip out. I remember to this day the font, I remember the way it looked, because when I saw those words I was like, ‘I’m getting this job.’ I was born in ’76, so I was watching Total Recall on tape when it came out and it was one of my favourite films. But my agents laughed at me and said, ‘Young buck, you’re just starting out, they’ve had some big guys on this job,’ blah blah blah, and that fired me up, because I thought, ‘I can’t control how old I am or my credits, all I can control is the quality of the words on the page. I can’t control whether or not a movie gets made.’ So I said, ‘Look, I’ll put my writing up against whoever’s writing, and let’s see what happens. I gotta take a shot.'”
At the time, Dimension executives were set to close a deal with Bob Gale, who co-wrote the Back to the Future films with Robert Zemeckis. “I can’t say for certain what the reasons were for my agents not going after the job aggressively,” says Cirulnick, “but the bottom line is that what I was getting for the entire script would have been the commission my agents would get on Bob Gale!” When Dimension failed to make a deal with Gale, Cirulnick did not wait to be asked. “Luckily for me, one of the executives on Paid in Full, Jesse Berdinka, was also one of the executives on Total Recall 2, so I had my agent hit Dimension, and I hit Dimension personally, and I locked myself in a room and came up with an idea for Total Recall 2. I pitched the junior executive, then I pitched the president [Cary Granat], then I met with Bob Weinstein, Andrew Rona, Cary Granat and Jesse Berdinka, and gave them my pitch — and Bob was like, ‘Okay, you got it. Go.'”
There was just one problem: unbeknownst to Dimension, Ron Shusett’s contract for Total Recall meant that they were obliged to hire him to write the first draft of any sequel. Shusett, in turn, was obliged to bring Goldman aboard, due to the agreement the pair had made during the ‘Minority Report’ affair. Having learned of these obligations, Dimension could simply have asked Shusett and Goldman to turn Cirulnick’s concept into a script; instead, they invited the pair to pitch their own ideas. “They didn’t even give us Matt’s idea,” says Shusett. “They said, ‘We have some ideas, but what idea do you have?’ So we told them our take.” Dimension executives had their own ideas about where they wanted to take the sequel, ideas which did not gel with Cirulnick’s approach. “We had, almost eerily, the same approach to doing the sequel — a different one than Matt had in mind. So they said, ‘Okay, we’ll pay you to do it,’ and they did. They were very good to their word,” he adds. “They didn’t low-ball us.” Announcing the deal in May 1998, Variety further noted that Arnold Schwarzenegger had attended a four-hour development meeting with Weinstein and Granat, and was said to be “actively involved” in the development of the film.
“We stuck fairly closely to their set-up that launches the story, but from there we were free to go where we wanted,” Goldman explains. “They knew what they liked in the original movie: they wanted to keep it as a popcorn movie with lots of cool stuff, but they also liked the ‘is it real or is it Memorex?’ theme — the ‘mindfucks’.” Dimension’s hope, he says, was to keep the ambiguity alive as long as possible by alternating between the theories. “It was a high wire act,” he explains, “where we would confirm that it was real on Mars, then use a narrative device to make it seem like he was on Earth or still in the Rekall chair, and then use an even more clever device to put him back on Mars. Even though this was our favourite theme too, Ron and I actually had to restrain them from overdoing it. They were real students of the movie, and we were flattered, but they didn’t quite understand the simplicity and subtlety of how we achieved our effects in the first movie. We took direction from them, but resisted decisions that we felt were mistakes. Eventually, they came to trust us when we said you can easily overdo the complications — and we arrived at a workable balance.”
The Shusett-Goldman draft opens amid celebrations for Mars’ independence, with Quaid and Melina honoured by President Gloria Palomares for their part in the struggle. Just as Quaid is about to give a speech, however, a double stabs him and takes his place… He wakes to find himself next to Melina. Only three weeks have passed since the events of Total Recall, and he is still among the Martian rebels — independence for Mars is still a dream. They tell him of ‘Project Whisper’, a form of mind control being planned by President Saarinen’s government, and suggest delving into his mind to see if Hauser knows anything about it. Reluctantly agreeing to submit to the operation, he falls unconscious… only to wake up at Rekall Incorporated, his wife Lori and Bob, the Rekall salesman, at his bedside, and Dr Edgemar very much alive. They convince him that he has not left Rekall since he began his vacation, yet events on Mars appear to have transpired largely as they occurred in Quaid’s Rekall trip — Mars has air, Cohaagen is dead — a suspicious development which Dr Edgemar attributes to real-world news programmes filtering into Quaid’s virtual adventure. “So, Mr Quaid,” Edgemar tells him, “like all vacations, this one too comes to an end. And as usual, we feel a little sad returning to the daily grind.” Quaid returns home with Lori, only to be told that during the six months he was comatose at Rekall, she began a new relationship with her personal trainer. (“Harvey Weinstein had a [professional] relationship with Sharon Stone, and they wanted to try to get her back into the franchise,” Goldman explains.) Dejected and financially dependent on Rekall, Quaid finds a job on the construction site of a Seattle-based ‘space elevator’ — one of Arthur C. Clarke’s proposed constructs tethering an orbital space station to the Earth, allowing payloads to be transported cheaply to and from space.
Meanwhile, an imminent presidential election draws Quaid’s attention to an electoral campaign by Gloria Palomares, the President from his dream, denounced by her opponents as a “mutant lover” for promising to hold a referendum on Mars’ independence if she is elected. Torn between his feelings for Melina (whom he now believes to be a construct of Rekall) and Renee, one of Mrs Palomares’ campaign volunteers, Quaid becomes involved with her political campaign, but is betrayed and framed for an explosion which wrecks the space elevator. Imprisoned for six months in a space prison known as the Pasternak Institute for the Criminally Insane, he manages to escape, and rejoins what remains of the rebels, who tell him of Melina’s death.
Posing as Hauser, Quaid heads to Vladivostock, where he is shocked to meet up with his own mother, whom he thought long dead. Mrs Hauser, evidently a Saarinen sympathiser, sees through Quaid’s deception, but although she threatens him, she knows that if she kills Quaid, her beloved Hauser will die too. Through his mother, Quaid discovers that Project Whisper is a planet-wide programme designed to keep the electorate voting a certain way, thus keeping the next government — Saarinen’s — in power forever. After a gunfight with a dozen Lori clones and his own mother, Quaid succeeds in destroying Project Whisper, an act which creates a vacuum (allowing a popular scene from Total Recall to be reprised) and ultimately leads to the election of Mrs Palomares and independence for Mars. He is about to make a speech when he sees Dr Edgemar sitting in a front seat — but the next instant, he is gone. Did his eyes deceive him? Or is he still back at Rekall, dreaming of Martian independence?
“[Dimension] liked the screenplay,” Goldman says. “We did one fairly minor polish, and then they were ready to make the movie. They told Arnold that they were ready to make the movie. They let him know that they would pay him his price. Ron, Arnold, and I were all at the William Morris Agency. Five or six agents there read our script and loved it. I would say that there was a consensus that this should be Arnold’s next movie.” Schwarzenegger, however, didn’t agree. “He said it was too complicated. In general, Arnold never seemed to appreciate the complications in the original, or to grasp that the essence of the franchise was the complicated mindfucks.” Adds Shusett, “He had seen the outline, and gave [Dimension] the okay to pay us, but sometimes when you see things in script form, some things feel different than on a ten-page outline. He said, ‘No, I don’t like this, I don’t want to do it.’ Bob Weinstein said, ‘He just turned down the best script that’s ever been offered to him,’ which coming from Bob, who can be very tough, is a real compliment. He said, ‘I always considered the first Total Recall [to be] one of the five best science fiction movies ever, and now you’ve topped it with this one, he won’t do it.’ Dimension was very disappointed, and we were too. At that point,” he concludes, “it just went into limbo.”
Excerpt From Tales From Development Hell By David Hughes. © 2012 David Hughes. All Rights Reserved.