2014 was a big year for David Fincher. Not only was the director returning to theaters with “Gone Girl” in the fall, but he also signed on to co-create and direct an adaption of the UK series “Utopia” for HBO. Fincher had already earned acclaim in the television world for Netflix’s “House of Cards” the year before, and his move to premium cable sounded extremely exciting. “Gone Girl” author Gillian Flynn was set to join Fincher on the series, and the cast included Rooney Mara. But HBO pulled the plug in July 2015, and now we’ll never get to see Fincher’s “Utopia” on the small screen.
The British version of “Utopia” was written and created by Dennis Kelly and ran for two seasons on Channel 4. The story involved a group of people who find a manuscript for the sequel of a cult graphic novel that was rumored to have predicted the worst disasters of the last century. Fearing the sequel predicts the next century of disasters, the group head out on a mission to save the world from mass destruction, all while evading an organization known as The Network.
Fincher was planning an ambitious adaptation for HBO, but the network and the director couldn’t agree on the necessary budget. In a new interview with the Empire podcast, Fincher looks back on the failed project and reveals that it all came down to $9 million.
“I thought we had really, really good scripts and a great cast and we were getting ready to do that and you know it came down to $9 million,” he said. “In the end, when you actually kind of lay it all out, $9 million in the scheme of things doesn’t sound like a huge discrepancy between what we wanted to do and what they wanted to pay for.”
Fincher teased just how ambitious “Utopia” was going to be by saying that he was planning to have the show released in the summer so that television could have a program to “sort of rival tentpole movies” in terms of “twists and turns.” The director felt $9 million was required to pull the series off, which is a number “Game of Thrones” didn’t even hit per episode until later seasons. Part of the reason the budget was so high was because Fincher demanded to shoot the series in chronological order.
“Gillian Flynn wrote the scripts and you know it’s a road movie,” he said. “They go from one place to the next place, they burn that place to the ground, they go to the next place and they shave their heads and dye their hair and get tattoos and then burn that place to the ground. It wasn’t ‘Cheers.’ It wasn’t like you build a bar, and then generate some pages and the cast comes in and reads some lines.”
“This was inherently chronological,” he continued. “Any time that you sort of impose a chronology to film production things become—because you literally can’t go to the next scene until you finish the scene in the kitchen that burns do the ground. You have to make sure you have it done, then you can burn it to the ground.”
Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu faced a similar issue with his television series “The One Percent,” which Starz dropped earlier this year because shooting in chronological order would be too expensive. Fincher has since moved on to the serial killer drama “Mindhunter,” which is now streaming on Netflix.