Friday, July 19, 2013

Comic-Con Weekend's Screenwriters

If you're not at Comic-Con, there are four major movies and a promising indie comedy opening this weekend to choose from. One is from the director of a horror franchise that has been featured at the Con. One is a graphic novel adaptation, while another is a sequel to a graphic novel adaptation. A new animated feature opened on Wednesday. And the limited release indie is from a directing team who were previously nominated for an Oscar for adapting a graphic novel.
Expected to win the weekend is THE CONJURING, from SAW director James Wan. The horror film was written by Chad Hayes, who previously adapted WHITEOUT from a graphic novel and updated HOUSE OF WAX for Paris Hilton in 2005. Wax was Hayes's highest grosser to date, with nearly $40 million domestically, followed by his 2007 horror film, THE REAPING, with nearly $29 million.
Hayes goes up against RED 2, written by brothers Erich Hoeber & Jon Hoeber, who were also credited writers on Whiteout. In addition to their adaptation of the graphic novel for the first RED movie, the Hoebers also received sole screenwriting credit on BATTLESHIP.

Already released on Wednesday, Dreamworks' TURBO has three screenwriters credited. Darren Lemke was involved in the writing of SHREK FOREVER AFTER and JACK THE GIANT SLAYER. Robert Siegel's credits include the news parody THE ONION MOVIE and the critically acclaimed Darren Aronofsky arthouse hit, THE WRESTLER. Turbo director and co-writer David Soren comes to the project by way of the art department as storyboard artist for THE ROAD TO EL DORADO and CHICKEN RUN, story artist on SHREK, contributing writer and head of story for SHARK TALE, and co-writer and director of two MADAGASCAR straight-to-video sequels.

Finally, we have R.I.P.D., starring Jeff Bridges and based on the ghost-cop graphic novel of the same name. The story adaptation was by Wedding Crashers director David Dobkin (also story-by credited on Jack he Giant Slayer) and co-screenwriters Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi. The latter collaborators previously teamed up for AEON FLUX, CRAZY/BEAUTIFUL, THE TUXEDO, and CLASH OF THE TITANS.
In limited release, look for GIRL MOST LIKELY, starring Oscar-nominated screenwriter Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids) and Annette Bening. Directed by the husband-wife team of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, who were nominated for a screenplay adaptation Oscar for AMERICAN SPLENDOR (based on the comic book anthology by Harvey Pekar), the indie comedy was written by Michelle Morgan. Opening on 353 screens, Girl Most Likely is Morgan's second produced screenplay, following 2008's MIDDLE OF NOWHERE.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Complicated History of a Movie About American History

In 1964, My Fair Lady producer Jack Warner took a lot of heat for replacing the play's unknown star, Julie Andrews, with Audrey Hepburn.

Thinking he'd learned his lesson, Warner made sure his 1972 film version of 1776 would retain the same director and cast that originated the play on Broadway. But that didn't stop him from tinkering with the picture, cutting forty minutes from it without the director's knowledge -- after it was considered locked. Not wanting to be second-guessed, he ordered the editor to destroy the deleted footage -- and the negatives.

The most controversial cut was "Cool, Cool, Considerate Men," a song that mocks conservatives, rumored to have been excised at the request of then-President Nixon. It was said that Warner cited this lift as one of his biggest regrets in life just prior to his death.

The producer's politically motivated hatchet job left the film a largely forgotten curiosity for years. It opened big but, but quickly lost steam as the era of big movie musicals was already on the decline.
First time film director Peter H. Hunt shot 1776 in Panavision. "I played the entire frame," he said in a 1992 interview. "I don't even think there was a ground glass that indicated the TV screen in the viewfinder. Whether there was or not, it doesn't matter because I didn't pay any attention to it." As a result, the early TV and VHS transfers of the already butchered theatrical cut were unwatchably panned and scanned.

Further diluting the film's production values, Warner had released it in mono to save money, even though the soundtrack LP had been released in stereo. In 1991, Pioneer planned to release the first-ever letterboxed transfer of the movie on laserdisc. Telecine operator Marc Wielage, who didn't particularly like the film when he color corrected it, announced the pending release in the Consumer Electronics Forum on CompuServe. Fans there generated more buzz than expected and wanted to know if it would also be in stereo.

These requests led to Pioneer searching the Columbia Records vaults for the original stereo stems. Only when vocal bleed-through of a missing verse in one of the songs was heard on the orchestra tracks did the restoration team realize there was more to the film version of 1776 than they thought. Tracking down original editor Florence Williamson, the restorers learned that she had secretly kept the shredded film in a safe place for twenty years, just in case.

Delaying the laserdisc release by a year, Pioneer was able to piece it all back together, frame by frame, except for one five second scene that was never found and another scene for which they could only find a black and white work print. They released the Pioneer Special Edition without color correcting any of the scratchy, restored footage. The jarring color shifts signal the scenes Jack Warner had problems with. Strangely, almost all the dialogue from the Delaware delegation was among the seemingly arbitrary omissions. Perhaps he thought it would be cheaper somehow if there were only twelve colonies?

The two lost pieces were eventually found and restored for the 2002 DVD release. That edition, seamlessly color corrected, represents the official Director's Cut, as it re-removed a few restorations the laserdisc people didn't know were Hunt's intended cuts. Ironically, those final cuts include the missing verse that started the search for the rest of the missing footage.

The DVD cut is also the version now shown on Turner Classic Movies every year on the Fourth of July. Its existence is one of the earliest examples of movie fans using the democratic power of the internet, a few years before the World Wide Web, to influence the release of an alternate version of a cherished but mishandled film.

This 4th of July, watch 1776 on Turner Classic Movies or on Amazon streaming!
Spoiler: Congress declares Independence!

(Portions of this article first appeared on Five Sprockets on July 5, 2010.)