Undoubtedly the biggest news story of 2014 so far (unless Apichatpong Weerasethakul replaced J.J. Abrams as director of “Star Wars: Episode VII” in between us writing this and it going live) revolves around Quentin Tarantino‘s “The Hateful Eight.” It was announced as being the director’s next movie, only for the script to apparently leak, reportedly through one of the potential actor’s agents, and that caused Tarantino to announce that he was scrapping the project, at least for the moment. (He’s also suing Gawker for helping disseminate the screenplay).
But for QT, it could have been a lot worse: plenty of other filmmakers have gotten a lot further along the production line — like shooting, or even completing, a movie — before having to abandon ship. So, to put things into perspective, we’ve picked out ten abandoned films by great — or not so great — filmmakers, ones that all got before cameras, but never made it into theaters, at least in the form in which they were intended. Hopefully, it’ll provide us all with something to do while we wait for Mr. Tarantino to get going on his next project…
Take a look below, and let us know any abandoned movies you wish you’d seen, and if you’re favorite isn’t on here, don’t worry — we may do a follow-up post at some point, as there were so many to choose from…
Who Made It? David O. Russell, working from a script by “Futurama” writer Kristin Gore, and “Axe Cop” duo Dave Jeser and Matthew Silverstein. The project was set to be Russell’s next film after “I Heart Huckabees” when it went before cameras in 2008.
What Was It About? An oddball satire about a waitress who’s shot in the head with a nail, and undergoes a severe personality shift. She travels to Washington to campaign for victims of bizarre injuries, and becomes involved with an unscrupulous congressman. Jessica Biel and Jake Gyllenhaal had the lead roles, with James Marsden, Catherine Keener, Kirstie Alley, James Brolin, Paul Reubens and Tracy Morgan also among the cast.
How Far Did It Get? Nearly completed. Almost every scene was shot, except the key one where Biel is shot in the head with a nail (a test screening report notes it was shot and included, but was so poorly rendered, it needed a reshoot). Still, the film recently received an MPAA rating, so that seems to suggest it’s in some kind of viewable form now.
What Happened? Though Russell had something of a bad-boy reputation up to this point (totally turned around now thanks to his awards success), the problems with “Nailed” had very little to do with him — even if James Caan walked off set on the first day, reportedly after quarrelling with Russell on how to choke to death on a cookie in a scene — and a lot to do with the collapse of the film’s financier David Bergstein. Bergstein and his company Capitol Films — behind movies like “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead” and “Spartan” — were backing the $25 million comedy, but filming shut down after two weeks when “cashflow” issues caused problems with payment of the cast and crew. It geared up again, but production was shut down a further three times, normally when the SAG or IATSE unions ordered their members off the set due to non-payment. Bergstein blamed his financial troubles on the financial crash, and the collapse of his hedge-fund investors, though he’s still being chased by debtors, and has a number of lawsuits pending. The last shutdown came only a few days before the movie was due to wrap (hence the film being in some kind of completed state, it seems), but Russell has expressed little interest in returning to complete it himself, saying in 2010: “There was a lot that was going on that I liked, but it was kinda a stillbirth, you know? So when that happens, the whole thing gets kinda weird.” Given the way that Russell’s work has changed in recent years, the chances of him going back seem fairly slim, but with much of the plot revolving around healthcare reform, maybe it was Obamacare that finally put the last nail in the “Nailed” coffin?
“The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”
Who Made It? Terry Gilliam, working from a script co-written with regular collaborator Tony Grisoni (“Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas,” “Tideland,” “Red Riding“). The pair moved on to the project swiftly after the release of “Fear and Loathing.”
What Was It About? It’s a spin on Miguel Cervantes‘ famous novel, about a present-day ad executive who’s magically transported to 17th century Spain, where he replaces Sancho Panza as the right-hand-man to windmill-battling fantasist knight Don Quixote. In the original form, Johnny Depp was to play the time-traveler, with French actor Jean Rochefort as Quixote. Depp’s then girlfriend Vanessa Paradis was also in the cast, as were Miranda Richardson, Christopher Eccleston, Ian Holm, Jonathan Pryce and Bill Paterson.
How Far Did It Get? Gilliam started shooting the fully-financed film in 2000, and got a few days into production before it had to be shut down.
What Happened? Bad stinking luck. As you’ll know from the excellent 2002 documentary detailing the lost project, “Lost In La Mancha,” the film came together (relatively) smoothly, but as soon as production began, it became a catalog of disasters. First, it emerged that the major outdoor location was within earshot of a NATO target practice area, rendering much of the audio unusable. Gilliam pressed on, but the next day, the set was hit by a flash flood, changing the color of the landscape (meaning that earlier shots didn’t match up) and washing away equipment. But worst of all, it soon became apparent that veteran French star Rochefort, who had spent a year learning English to play Quixote, was not a well man: he arrived on set with a prostate infection, and five days in, suffered disastrous back problems, which led to him being flown back to France for an emergency operation. With no sign that Rochefort was ever going to be able to ride a horse again, let alone any time soon, Gilliam and co were forced to shut down and turn the film over to the insurers, who gained the rights to the script when they took over. The director spent much of the next decade trying to buy back the rights to the project, which were tied up in legal battles between the producers and insurers, but Gilliam finally reclaimed the script in 2006, and started moving forward again in 2008, after the completion of the similarly ill-fated “The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus.” Depp, now a global megastar, pulled out, so Ewan McGregor stepped in, and Robert Duvall was cast as Quixote, with shooting planned to get underway in the fall of 2010. But six weeks before that point, key financing collapsed, and a year or two later, Depp started developing a rival project with Disney. Still, there’s always hope: Gilliam recently announced that he’s hoping to shoot the film later this year, and is currently looking for cast, though Duvall recently indicated he’s still attached.
“My Best Friend’s Birthday”
Who Made It? Quentin Tarantino, no stranger to lost movies, as the brouhaha over “The Hateful Eight” has proved. He co-wrote the script with video store pal Craig Hamann, expanded from a short script by Hamann, and made his feature directorial debut on the project.
What Was It About?: A low-key black-and-white comedy about Clarence (Tarantino), who tries to surprise his best friend Mickey (Hamann) on his birthday, only for his efforts to backfire.
How Far Did It Get? The film, an out-and-out comedy without the genre elements in Tarantino’s subsequent work, was actually completed, albeit with a shoot that lasted for four years, on-and-off. It was completed by 1987, five years before Tarantino’s “real” directorial debut, “Reservoir Dogs.”
What Happened? A freak accident. It’s probably unlikely that the movie would have become a sensation, even as the early work of the cult filmmaker — it’s very lo-fi and reasonably amateurish in the making, to the extent that it likely wouldn’t have got much play even on the festival circuit. But sadly, it never even had the chance: once it finally wrapped, a fire in the development lab (the movie was shot on 16mm) destroyed almost exactly half of the picture, which was intended to run about 70-80 minutes. A roughly assembled version of what remained was debuted to friends in 1987, and played festivals once Tarantino became famous. The full script, and the surviving footage, made their way onto the internet a few years ago. You can watch the film below: while rough around the edges, it’s a fascinating glimpse of the director’s developing voice, and if nothing else, it should be of interest for fans of Tarantino in terms foreshadowing his later work (even Aldo Raine gets a namecheck, over twenty years before the character would appear in “Inglourious Basterds“).
“Que Viva Mexico”
Who Made It? Soviet silent master Sergei Eisenstein, the pioneering genius behind “Battleship Potemkin,” among others.
What Was It About? A sort of travelogue/tribute to Mexico, traveling from the Mayan civilization to the Spanish colonial era to the revolution to a Day of the Dead celebration in the present day.
How Far Did It Get? Eisenstein shot between 175,000 and 250,000 feet of the film in 1931, roughly equivalent to as much as 50 hours, before the backers, seeing no end in sight, pulled the plug.
What Happened? Eisenstein had been lured to Hollywood in 1930, signing a short-term contract with Paramount Pictures, but couldn’t agree with the studio on a project — the only one that came close, an adaptation of Theodore Dreiser’s “An American Tragedy” (later filmed as “A Place In The Sun“), was ultimately shut down by campaigning by anti-Communist activists. He was released from his contract by the studio, but pal Charlie Chaplin introduced him to progressive author/novelist Upton Sinclair (whose “Oil!” would nearly seventy years later be the basis of Paul Thomas Anderson‘s “There Will Be Blood“). Together, they cooked up a plan for an apolitical film about Mexico, produced by Sinclair and directed by Eisenstein. The Mexican government insisted that they be given the power to censor the film, but shooting soon began, with the intention that the project would be completed by the April of 1931. But Eisenstein, who was still trying to work out what the project would be, whizzed past that deadline, with more and more film being shot, and with the coffers running dry. Furthermore, having deferred a few times, Stalin had ordered the director to return to the USSR, labeling him a “deserter.” Stalin tried to pit Sinclair against the U.S. authorities, but it backfired, and the producer, furious, shut down production and ordered the film, and Eisenstein, back to the U.S. The director was refused a new visa for the U.S, after customs found caricatures of Jesus and pornography in his baggage, and he was sent to New York to prepare for return to Moscow. He would later say that he had lost interest in the project, while Sinclair and distributor Sol Lesser cut the remaining footage into two features and a short — “Thunder Over Mexico,” “Eisenstein In Mexico” and “Death Day,” which were released in 1933 and 1934. Nevertheless, others over the years attempted to reconstruct Eisenstein’s vision: film critic Marie Seton, who was close to the director, cut a version called “Time In The Sun” in 1939, while Soviet filmmaker Grigori Aleksandrov, who’d collaborated with Eisenstein on the original shoot, produced a cut under the original title in 1979. Eisenstein, meanwhile, restarted his career in the USSR, though was still held under suspicion by Stalin, and had another unfinished project in his future: a third part of his epic “Ivan The Terrible” which started rollinfg in 1946, but when Soviet censors refused to release ‘Part II,’ production was cancelled after the shooting of several scenes, and Eisenstein died two years later.
“The Other Side Of The Wind”
Who Made It? The undisputed king of the unfinished movie, Orson Welles.
What Was It About? Welles himself told fellow master filmmaker John Huston, who took the lead role in the movie that the film was “about a bastard director… full of himself, who catches people and creates and destroys them. It’s about us, John.” Influenced by underground techniques (and foreshadowing the current trend for found-footage pictures), the film detailed the last day in the life of filmmaker Jake Hannaford (based on Ernest Hemingway, and played by Huston), and his competitive relationship with a younger rival (played by Peter Bogdanovich), as filmed by the various hangers-on at his 70th birthday party. The cast also included Susan Strasberg, as a Pauline Kael surrogate, Joseph McBride, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper, Paul Mazursky, Claude Chabrol and even a very young Cameron Crowe.
How Far Did It Get? Over the course of five or six years, Welles shot almost everything he needed: about ten hours of negative exist. The major scene not shot was the car crash that kills Hannaford, and Welles never recorded the opening narration, which he intended to perform himself. He even edited about 40-50 minutes worth of film.
What Happened? As ever with the director, the production itself was fairly chaotic. Filming began in 1970, mostly of the film within a film, but at the time, he hadn’t cast the central role, and so was limited in what he could shoot. Furthermore, a 1971 tax bill left Welles heavily in debt, and as such, he had to go and work on other projects, including “F For Fake” and acting in “Waterloo” and “Treasure Island.” Huston was cast in 1973, and filming resumed, but due to some financial difficulties (including alleged embezzlement by a Spanish producer), it came in fits and starts, with shooting not completed until January 1976. But even that wasn’t the end of the road. Welles took three years to cut together forty minutes of film, but some of the funding came from the brother-in-law of the Shah of Iran, and when the Iranian Revolution came about in 1979, the negative was seized by Ayatollah Khomeini’s government as an “asset” of the previous regime. They eventually released it, but with Welles having since died, it caused a number of lawsuits about the ownership of the negative, with his daughter Beatrice Welles, and longtime mistress and collaborator Oja Kodar among those staking a claim. The original negative remained locked in a vault in Paris, though various work prints still existed elsewhere. An end looked to be in sight when cable network Showtime agreed to fund the completion of the project in the 1990s, and in the 2000s, the legal issues looked to come to an end as Beatrice Welles was paid off. But in 2008, another challenge surfaced, from Paul Hunt, who worked on the film, and producer Sanford Horowitz, who claimed that they also owned the movie. In theory, the legal battles have now been resolved, but it’s unclear if Showtime are still backing the project, although twenty minutes of scenes were released on the internet in 2012. We talked to Peter Bogdanovich, who vowed to finish the movie with producer Frank Marshall, late last year, and the director/star told us: “The problem is that a lot of different people own parts of it or claim to own parts of it. And so the chain of title is difficult to establish. But it keeps inching forward and we keep getting closer and closer and things fall apart again. It’s just a very, very difficult situation. I think it will get done some time, but not in the near future.”
“The Day The Clown Cried”
Who Made It? Comedy legend/philanthropist/filmmaker/sexist Jerry Lewis. It would have been his eleventh feature as a director, but when it failed to be completed, Lewis wouldn’t direct again for another eight years.
What Was It About? An adaptation of a novel by Joan O’Brien, it saw Lewis play Helmut, a German circus clown, who is arrested and sent to a prison camp after mocking Hitler. He begins performing for the Jewish prisoners on the other side of the fence, and is coerced by the authorities to help lead the children into the gas chambers. Distraught, he eventually accompanies them into the chamber and dies with them.
How Far Did It Get? Lewis did shoot the entire film, although he had to dig into his own pocket to see it through the final stages.
What Happened? Lewis had been approached by Belgian-born producer Nathan Wachsberger in 1971 about directing and starring in the project, and though he was initially resistant, eventually committed to the film, with shooting getting underway in April 1972 in Sweden. However, although Wachsberger had promised that the film was fully financed, he seemed to have been not entirely telling the truth, as film equipment failed to turn up, and money proved tight on set, with cast and crew allegedly going unpaid. Lewis did manage to complete the film after putting up some of the money himself, but once it wrapped, the actor/director and the producer continued to feud, with Wachsberger threatening a lawsuit, and retaining control of the negative. Lewis kept a rough cut, and announced publicly in January 1973 that the film would premiere at Cannes that May, but it never materialized, presumably because of the ongoing legal issues. In 1992, actor/comic/”The Simpsons” voice Harry Shearer wrote an article for Spy Magazine in which he claimed to have seen a rough cut of the film in 1979, writing of it, “This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is.” He also quoted original author Joan O’Brien as saying that the film was a “disaster,” and that she’d never allow it to be released. Lewis appears to agree, saying at a Q&A last year that, “I was ashamed of the work, and I was grateful that I had the power to contain it all, and never let anyone see it. It was bad, bad, bad.” And in Cannes a few months later, he doubled-down, saying “It was bad work. You’ll never see it and neither will anyone else.” But a few months later, while reiterating that he’d never release the picture, Lewis told Entertainment Weekly that he was proud of the film, or at least aspects of it. Interestingly, the same year saw some behind-the-scenes footage of the movie leak out: if Lewis is to be believed, the only chance we’ll have to see anything of the film for a long time to come.
“Who Killed Bambi?”
Who Made It? The script was penned by Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and legendary film critic Roger Ebert, curiously. Softcore supremo Russ Meyer was at the helm, though strangely, “The Accused and “Over The Edge” filmmaker Jonathan Kaplan claimed that he was director of the project in Vice a few years back.
What Was It About? A punk-rock version of “A Hard Day’s Night,” it starred the Sex Pistols, who set out to bring down British society.
How Far Did It Get? Ebert says that a day of filming (involving the shooting of a deer) took place before the film was shut down. The footage was later reused by McLaren for Julien Temple‘s “The Great Rock and Roll Swindle.”
What Happened? In a 2010 blog post commemorating McLaren, who passed away that year, Ebert wrote that he received a phone call from Meyer telling him that 20th Century Fox were looking to make a movie starring the Sex Pistols, who’d recently exploded into fame, and that Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious had demanded the men behind their favorite film “Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls” — namely, Meyer and Ebert, who directed and wrote it, respectively. McLaren flew out to Los Angeles to meet with the pair, who agreed to work on the project, and Ebert stayed in the city to bash out a screenplay. Once completed, Meyer flew to London to prep the film, with Marianne Faithful among those to sign up to the movie, and shooting began, only to grind to a halt almost immediately (Meyer suggested on “The Incredibly Strange Film Show” in the 1980s that he shot four days of the film). McLaren would claim that Fox finally got around to reading the script, and pulled the plug, but as Ebert says, “this seems unlikely because the studio would not have greenlighted the film without reading the script.” Meyer seems to have suggested that McLaren misrepresented the financing, and the involvement of Fox (and successfully sued him for libel when he claimed that Meyer had personally shot the deer in the scene), while Meyer biographer Jimmy McDonough claims that the film was shut down when 20th Century Fox board member Princess Grace Kelly objected to another X-rated film from the director, despite the immense success of “Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls.” With all three principals behind the project now sadly passed, it’s unlikely we’ll ever know the real story behind this one. But you can read Ebert’s script, which the critic published a few years back on his websiteand watch “The Incredibly Strange Film Show” excerpt below.
“Uncle Tom’s Fairy Tales”
Who Made It? The film was a collaboration between legendary comic Richard Pryor, in what would have been his first major film role, and then film-student Penelope Spheeris, who’d go on to direct legendary documenatries “The Decline Of Western Civilization (Parts I, II and III)” and, most famously, the original “Wayne’s World.”
What Was It About? It’s still somewhat unclear. David and Joe Henry‘s recent biography of Pryor, “Furious Cool,” says that the film was about a group of Black Panthers who abduct a wealthy white man and put him on trial for all racial crimes in the history of America.
How Far Did It Get? Shot in 1968 or early 1969, the film appears to have been completed, and Spheeris edited the film at the end of ’69, except for a short break in order to give birth to her daughter.
What Happened? According to “Furious Cool,” Spheeris had apparently assembled about 45/50 minutes of the movie — they were working towards a cut that they would show Bill Cosby, who it was hoped would attach his name to the project, presumably as a producer. She screened it to Pryor in the basement of his house, with the film then collecting in a bin under the Moviola, when Pryor’s second wife Shelley Bonis stormed in, furious with her husband. According to Spheeris, Pryor and Shelley fought until the comic, screaming “You think I love this film more than you? Watch this?,” picked up the negative and tore it into pieces. Spheeris spliced the fragments back together as best she could, and they screened the results to Cosby, who may or may not have bought the negative (Pryor’s memoirs says that Cosby agreed to pay for a final edit, then commented “Hey, this shit is weird,” convincing Pryor to shelve the film, only for the negative to be stolen from his house, while Spheeris speculates that Cosby buried the movie to hurt Pryor, his main competition). A brief clip of the film, from dailies Spheeris says she found years later, was screened at a tribute to the comedian shortly before his death in 2005, which caused Pryor’s wife Jennifer Lee to sue both the director and Shelley’s daughter Rain, claiming that they must have been behind the theft of the print in the 1980s. The suit is apparently still pending.
Who Made It? Henri-Georges Clouzot, the suspense mastermind behind “Les Diaboliques” and “The Wages Of Fear,” among others.
What Was It About? An expressionist psychological thriller about a hotelier driven mad by the sexual jealousy caused by his younger wife. Italian born actor/singer Serge Reggiani, and Austrian actress Romy Schneider (“What’s New Pussycat?“) had the lead roles.
How Far Did It Get? About three weeks of filming took place before the plug was pulled.
What Happened? Clouzot had been stung by criticism from the New Wave filmmakers, who attacked him repeatedly in Cahiers du cinema, and so the filmmaker set out, with an essentially unlimited budget from Columbia Pictures (there were three separate crews, with as many as 150 people working simultaneously), to make something more avant-garde with his 1964 film, “L’Enfer.” Surviving footage looks rather remarkable, although Bernard Stora, then an intern on the project, would later comment, “It seemed clear from the beginning they didn’t know what they were doing.” Once filming began, a Gilliam-esque series of nightmares took place. The summer shoot took place in record-breaking temperatures. It emerged that the lake by which the film was being shot, a crucial part of the movie, was set to be drained in a few weeks, leaving Clouzot 20 days to wrap the movie. And that looked to be impossible when the often-difficult Clouzot fell out with Reggiani, principally because he was forcing the actor to run up to ten miles a day in the sweltering heat—the actor claimed to be suffering from Maltese fever, and quit after ten days. Clouzot attempted to replace him with “And God Created Woman” and “Amour” star Jean-Louis Trintignant, but the actor smelt something fishy and declined after a visit to the set. Instead, Clouzot decided he’d try and rewrite the film around the absence of his male lead. But a few days later, while shooting a lesbian love scene on the lake, he suffered a heart attack, and insurance agents finally stepped in. Still, it survives better than most—Claude Chabrol made a film based on Clouzot’s script in 1994 starring Emmanuelle Beart, while the surviving footage was unveiled in the excellent 2009 documentary “Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno.”
Who Made It? Nouveau Vague legend Jean Luc-Godard, who shot the film in 1968 with the help of famous documentarians D.A. Pennebacker and Richard Leacock.
What Was It About? An attempt to capture the spirit of revolution in the American underground at the time, mixing documentary footage with dramatic reconstructions, shot almost entirely in unbroken rolls of film.
How Far Did It Get? The film (the title of which stands for “One American Movie“) was shot almost entirely. But it wasn’t the production that was the problem…
What Happened? By 1968, the increasingly politicized Godard was frustrated with the film industry in France, and the way that the revolution seemed to be running into the ground. But he was soon approached by documentarians Pennebaker and Leacock, who had convinced PBS-forerunners the Public Broadcasting Laboratory, to finance a film that they’d work on with Godard. Filming began in October ’68, and involved a mix of documentary footage, interviews and staged scenes (including one where Rip Torn, wearing first a Civil War army uniform , then present-day khakis, lectured an Ocean Hill elementary school classroom). Jefferson Airplane and Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver were among the other subjects. But, according to Richard Brody’s book “Everything Is Cinema,” Godard disappeared to Canada in November, beginning to put together projects there, having seemingly lost confidence in “One A.M.” His absence meant that Leacock and Pennebaker were financially liable to PBL, and their company was forced into bankruptcy as a result. Godard returned to finally look at the rushes in the spring of 1970, but announced his disinterest in the project, and walked away again. In the event, Pennebaker cut together his own version (including footage he’d filmed of Godard on set), and entitled it “One P.M,” which stands for, depending on who you’re talking to, for either “One Parallel Movie” or “One Pennebaker Movie.” It premiered in June 1971, and now pops up on the rep circuit from time to time. Or you can just watch it below.
Thoughts? If you could choose one, which one of these projects would you most like to see if that was possible? And there’s plenty of other unfinished, abandoned and scrapped films out there in the history of cinema. Any others you’d like to see for a future installment?