EXCLUSIVE: For the first time, iconic sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison has allowed a film to be developed based on Repent, Harlequin! Said The Ticktock Man, the seminal story he published in Galaxy magazine in 1965. Ellison has granted an option directly to J. Michael Straczynski, whose recent credits include World War Z, Thor, the TV series Babylon 5 and Sense8, the upcoming Netflix series he is doing with Lana and Andy Wachowski.
How did Straczynski do it? He had to deliver a finished screenplay to Ellison, whose credits range from The Outer Limits and Star Trek to being acknowledged in many sci-fi works including James Cameron’s The Terminator, and serving as a Babylon 5 consultant. Only then did Ellison grant the option.
The story is about Everett C. Marm, an ordinary man who disguises himself as the anarchical Harlequin and engages in whimsical rebellion against the Ticktockman. The trouble is that if he is found out, the government could stop his heart at long distance if they learn who he is. Straczynski sees the cautionary tale as especially relevant in a post-Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street environment, or even Edward Snowden, in a story of a man who goes against the system and must pay the price for his actions. Now that the script is done, Straczynski will look for production partners and a director, and the first parties he will approach will be Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro. Ellison’s story won the 1966 Hugo Award and the 1965 Nebula Award, among others.
This is the first project not self-generated by Straczynski to be hatched at his shingle Studio JMS. He launched the company to take more control of passion projects, and now is branching out to optioning book and short stories like this one that can be commercially viable sci-fi. He’s still just as active on the comic book front, with his The Adventures Of Apocalypse Al just published.
Why would Ellison wait so long? He has had a tough time in Hollywood, and it sounds like a lot of it is because of his uncompromising manner. He got a job writing at Disney but lasted less than a day, after Roy O. Disney overheard him musing about his desire to write a porno film featuring Disney characters. Later, he feuded with Gene Roddenberry over rewrites to the Star Trek episode he scripted, and once, when asked by Warner Bros after the success of Star Wars to adapt Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, he was dropped after telling then-studio head Robert Shapiro that he had the intellectual capacity of an artichoke. Finally, he ended up suing Orion and Hemdale, alleging that The Terminator took liberties with his “Soldier” and “Demon With A Glass Hand” episodes of The Outer Limits. They settled out of court, and Ellison got acknowledgment on The Terminator, over Cameron’s objections.