One of the coolest things about the internet for nerds like me and you is the way that it allows film-types to reach out to us directly with their stories from the front lines of movie making. It used to be that we had to wait years to get the inside scoop on why a project shit the bed, but these days you can get the story almost real time. At least if the people involved are web-savvy, smart and cool.
John August is all of those things. And he’s just posted a lengthy blog entry about why Shazam! is dead at Warner Bros. August had been developing the film as a comedy with action that featured the traditionally young Billy Batson and a Black Adam who wasn’t overused throughout the script but who showed up right at the end. That movie was looking good at New Line; Peter Segal even told the erstwhile Jeremy Smith that Shazam! was his next movie after Get Smart. Then the writer’s strike happened and then New Line went away. Shazam! folded into Warner Bros, and things got weird. Says August:
When we turned the new draft in to the studio, we got a reaction that made me wonder if anyone at Warners had actually read previous drafts or the associated notes. The studio felt the movie played too young. They wanted edgier. They wanted Billy to be older. They wanted Black Adam to appear much earlier.
(I pointed out that Black Adam appears on page one, but never got a response.)
I expressed my frustration that I’d wasted months of my time and a considerable amount of the studio’s money on things that should have been discussed at the outset. I asked for a meeting with the executive in charge. He and I had one phone call, then I got a new set of notes that didn’t gibe with what we had discussed. (The written studio notes, I will say, were well-considered. I disagreed with the direction they were taking the movie, but they were thorough and self-consistent.)
In retrospect, I can point to two summer Warner Bros. movies that I believe defined the real issue at hand: Speed Racer and The Dark Knight. The first flopped; the second triumphed. Given only those two examples, one can understand why a studio might wish for their movies to be more like the latter. But to do so ignores the success of Iron Man, which spent most of its running time as a comedic origin story, and the even more pertinent example of WB’s own Harry Potter series. I tried to make this case, to no avail.
I was under contract to deliver one more draft. So I took them at their (written) word and delivered what they said they wanted: a much harder movie, with a lot more Black Adam. This wasn’t “Big, with super powers” anymore. It was Black Adam versus Captain Marvel, with a considerable push into dark territory and liminal badlands like Nanda Parbat. It wasn’t the action-comedy I’d signed on to write, but it was a movie I could envision getting made. The producer and director liked it, and turned it in to the studio while I was in France.
By the time I got back, the project was dead.
There’s more at his blog, including how surprised he was to see Variety reporting that Shazam! was still Segal’s next film when he knows that the project is done for. While you’re at John’s site, bookmark it – it’s one of the most interesting and educational sites for people who are really interested in screenwriting and the world of screenwriters.
While you’re there check out this 2006 entry that has the text of a speech John delivered at Trinity University in San Antonio, about ‘Professional Writing and the Rise of the Amateur.’ He hits on a lot of issues that I am endlessly interested in and concerned about.
Thanks to Mike R for the email alerting me to this latest blog post.