Earlier: David Lowery has a message for screenwriters: When you have a really good idea you’re passionate about, don’t put it on the back burner and assume you’ll be able to get to it when you get to it. The “A Ghost Story” director recently shared a story on his Road Dog Production blog entitled “Occupational Hazard.” The post details a script idea Lowery started writing two and half years ago that is oddly similar to Scott Frank’s Netflix series “Godless.”
According to Lowery, the idea started with a dream he had in which Amanda Seyfried “made her way stoically across a misty field towards a mountain of male corpses.” The director had also read a New Yorker article around the same time about the 33 Chilean miners who became trapped after a cave-in.
“The facts of that article and something about that dream intertwined in my head and suggested a screenplay about a struggling mining town in Colorado just before the Civil War, where a cave-in leads to the death of every single man,” Lowery writes. “I began to write it.”
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Lowery put the project on hold during the production of “Pete’s Dragon,” but he resumed work on the script just a year ago. “I developed new characters,” he writes, “dug into the facts of the period, wrote and rewrote dialogue, charted a structure, began to cast the film in my mind, and took that most treacherous but necessary of steps: I started to tell people about the project.”
The script came to a stop this September, however, after Lowery discovered the Netflix series “Godless,” created by Scott Frank and executive produced by Steven Soderbergh. The show is set in a mining town entirely populated by women, and one of the characters even shared the same name as Lowery’s protagonist: Callie. Lowery says he put the script into his “archives of unfinished projects” after reading about “Godless.”
“It’s happened before, this being beaten to some unexpectedly zeitgeisty punch, but never with such acute precision,” he writes. “Scott Frank was one of my advisors at the Sundance Labs nearly six years ago. He gave me one of the best tips of my career, but we have not crossed paths since.”
Lowery wonders if Frank had maybe dropped a hint about the idea during their time together and questions if that’s the reason he thought of the idea in the first place after his dream. The director admits he has no idea when Frank started to develop “Godless” and says coincidence is most likely to blame for why he had to shelve his script.
Several days after Lowery published the post, Soderbergh took to Twitter to defend Frank. Soderbergh clearly took Lowery’s post as an implication that Frank stole Lowery’s idea to create “Godless” after Lowery began telling people what he was writing. Lowery even wrote that telling people was a “treacherous” move. Soderbergh noted that he read Frank’s first “Godless” draft in 2003.
Dear David Lowery: I read Scott Frank’s first draft of GODLESS in 2003, long before you met him at Sundance. ALL the characters (and their names) were in that initial version.
— Bitchuation (@Bitchuation) December 4, 2017
Lowery provided an addendum to his post to clarify that his intention was to never make it seem like Frank stole his idea.
“My post was not any sort of claim to authorship,” Lowery wrote. “Nor was it meant to be begrudging. ‘Godless’ is a completely original project; mine was likewise, and what I wrote was meant to be a musing on how two people can, all on their own, in completely separate chronologies, come up with remarkably similar ideas – a phenomenon which I suspect every writer is familiar with, and one I should have taken a bit more care and tact in elucidating.”
Lowery is currently in post-production on “The Old Man and the Gun,” starring Casey Affleck and Robert Redford. Fox Searchlight Pictures has U.S. distribution rights. You can read his full blog post on right here.