Former CHUD writer Mr. Beaks has been excited for Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret, the playwrights follow-up to his film directing debut, You Can Count on Me, for years. And if court documents obtained by the LA Times are telling the whole story, he may be waiting for years to come.

Lonergan finished making Margaret, which stars Anna Paquin, Matt Damon and Mark Ruffalo, in 2005. The movie is a post-9/11 story set in New York City; the script logs in at almost 170 pages and is supposedly very excellent but also very non-commercial. The film has languished in post-production since then, and nobody seems to have known why or how long purgatory would last. Now these court docs, part of an overarching legal action about the film, may have revealed the answer: Lonergan, who has final cut on the movie, has been unable to stop editing it. He’s never found a cut with which he’s been happy in almost three years, and has even taken a 1 million dollar personal loan from Matthew Broderick to finance his continued editing.

And it wasn’t Lonergan alone in that editing room. According to the Times:

A number of producers and editors — including Rudin, Pollack and
Martin Scorsese’s legendary editor, Thelma Schoonmaker — have tried
but failed to help Lonergan complete his movie, court documents and
interviews show. With his financing from Gilbert and Fox Searchlight
cut off, Lonergan borrowed more than $1 million from actor and close
friend Matthew Broderick (who has a small part in “Margaret”) in an
attempt to complete the editing of the movie, according to a person
close to the production. (A Broderick spokesman said the loan was a
private matter and disputed the dollar amount but did not provide
another figure.)

Why Lonergan couldn’t finish a version of the film he liked is central
to the dispute. Even Lonergan’s supporters say he is an exacting
perfectionist who struggled to find the movie within the footage he had
shot. Gilbert’s advocates say (and his lawsuit alleges) that the
producer gave Lonergan countless chances to finish the movie but that
Lonergan failed to take anyone’s counsel.

“Previews and screenings were scheduled throughout 2006, yet they had
to be canceled time and again due to Lonergan’s refusal or inability to
produce a cut of the picture,” Gilbert argued in his suit against
Lonergan and Fox Searchlight.

Gilbert in his legal papers also says that Lonergan “failed to keep
regular hours,” that producer Pollack cut short an editing session
“having become disgusted by, and frustrated with, Lonergan’s
unprofessional and irrational behavior” and that Lonergan “did not
listen to, or implement” editor Schoonmaker’s suggestions. Gilbert said
that when Fox Searchlight refused to pay for additional post-production
costs, he footed the bill. At some point around that time, Lonergan
turned to Broderick for a loan, according to a person close to the film.

And there’s more at the article, which I really encourage you to read. It’s rare to get a glimpse of just how badly the system can break down. This was particularly interesting to me:

Gilbert also hired editor Dylan Tichenor (“Brokeback Mountain”) to
recut the film, but Gilbert says that Fox Searchlight “refused even to
screen it” in part because it didn’t want to “damage . . . its
reputation among the ‘director community,’ ” his lawsuit says.

That’s part of the magic variable that’s in the Hollywood equation. A movie’s success is based on profit and loss, but also on perception. A movie like Margaret is worth more to Searchlight in a vault than if it’s creating the bad buzz that the studio recuts films behind the director’s back.

The article makes it seem like there’s little chance of seeing Margaret at any point in the near future, and even if we do see it, it could be absolutely terrible. This is a serious shame.