Scoop hounds like myself love to lock filmmakers into projects and move on in search of the next splashy headline. A look at some recent big director developments, and at the tortured road several directors traveled before getting Oscar nominations this morning, shows that good movies really do find their way into the right hands, even if it takes forever to happen.
Among today’s Best Director nominees, Steven Spielberg only found the handle on Best Picture nominee Lincoln after he trashed an earlier version and labored more than a decade; David O Russell got Silver Linings Playbook because Sydney Pollack could not figure out how to meld humor with mental problems; Ang Lee got to crack the challenging Life Of Pi — which recently became the highest-grossing film in his career — after previous tries by Dean Georgaris and M. Night Shyamalan ended in futility. None of this is as dramatic as, say, when Spielberg traded Martin Scorsese Cape Fear in exchange for Schindler’s List, but it is intriguing how the moves of one major director impacts another, how the right guy for the picture usually ends up in the director’s chair, and why patience can be a virtue.
In recent developments in that regard, Spielberg surprised even people close to the project yesterday when he called off a spring start date on Robopocalypse, which had Chris Hemsworth and Anne Hathaway ready to star. I’d heard yesterday that one factor might have been that Spielberg saw Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming robot battle pic Pacific Rim, and decided there was no reason to rush this. What is interesting about that is that del Toro would not have been able to make Pacific Rim had he not decided that directing The Hobbit film series was a job better suited for co-writer Peter Jackson, who warmed to spending another huge chunk of his professional life in Tolkien’s Middle-earth.
News also broke last night that The Dark Knight Rises helmer Christopher Nolan has focused his attention on Interstellar, which could only have happened after Spielberg decided it wasn’t a good fit for him. Spielberg set up the project in 2006 after becoming intrigued by Caltech physicist and relativity expert Kip S. Thorne and his scientific theory that wormholes exist and can be used for time travel. Paramount (after it bought DreamWorks) signed on a year later and set Jonah Nolan to write it. The Nolan siblings obviously work well together (Jonah hatched the short story that became Christopher’s first hit Memento, and they collaborated on two Batfilms and The Prestige.
Insiders tell me that Christopher Nolan is writing a script that merges an original idea of his with the script that Jonah wrote. It will retain the title Interstellar, and the ambition for the project is a film that will depict a heroic interstellar voyage to the farthest borders of our scientific understanding. If it all pans out, he’ll direct. Nolan’s unofficial home studio, Warner Bros, has been kissed into the deal as a co-production partner with Paramount, and Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas are producing with Lynda Obst. Jordan Goldberg is joining as exec producer alongside Thorne, who’ll remain on as technical consultant.
I’d like to add a timely aside about Nolan: I recall emerging from a summer IMAX preview screening of The Dark Knight Rises feeling confident the film and its maker would be in the center of the Oscar conversation, for completing his trilogy as strongly as Jackson did The Lord Of The Rings. All of that was shattered by the violence in an Aurora, Colorado midnight screening days later, which stamped The Dark Knight Returns in a completely unexpected context. In the face of that, Nolan issued a heartfelt statement that was hailed by numerous filmmakers I’d spoken to as elegantly mirroring exactly the way they felt. Nolan has not mentioned the tragedy since, and while Warner Bros tried to get voters to remember the film, Nolan took a low-key approach to Oscar season that speaks to his classiness, self-awareness and understanding that an awards season snub was by far the least important bad thing that happened in the wake of his exceptional film’s opening.
As for whether Spielberg will drop one more promising project into the hands of another filmmaker with Robopocalypse, he says the answer is no way. “(In terms of the delay), I found another way to tell the story,” Spielberg told Deadline this morning. “I had an epiphany and I only have had these a couple of time during the course of my work and whenever those voices occur, I need to listen to them. I found another way to tell the story, it’s a much more personal story for me. I let my cast and crew go make other movies, while I take a half a year to get it to the place that I need it.” Spielberg would not go as far as saying whether he’ll take on another picture before he gets to this. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’m going to wait until March when I’m going to redevelop it.”
Considering Spielberg’s willingness to invest 12 years on Lincoln and 11 years to get Schindler’s List right, who am I to bet against him?