EXCLUSIVE: Is Once and Begin Again helmer John Carney looking to take a break from a streak of musical-themed film that continues with the Sundance sensation Sing Street? Carney and STX Entertainment are discussing with the Irish filmmaker Russ & Roger Go Beyond, about the time that the soft-core porn impresario and film critic teamed to make 1970’s Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls. Will Ferrell will play Meyer and Josh Gad will play Ebert. The film is being produced by Mark Amin’s Sobini Films and David Permut and Richard Waltzer, with a script by Emmy-winning Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons scribe Christopher Cluess. Carney isn’t firm at this point, but I’m told they are in early talks. Several directors have flirted with this, including most recently Ben Stiller.
Russ & Roger Go Beyond takes place in the late 1960s, when cheap counterculture films like Easy Rider were minting money and 20th Century Fox was struggling mightily after a number of big-budget flops. Meyer already was established as the outlaw helmer of soft-core pulp films like Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, and he wanted the legitimacy of making a studio film. Richard Zanuck, then head of 20th, gave him that opportunity because the filmmaker’s profit margins were so high and his costs were minuscule.
When Meyer agreed to take on Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, he insisted the script get written by Ebert, the third-string movie critic of the Chicago Sun-Times who had written one of the few positive reviews Meyer had ever received. Given the esteem in which Ebert was held as a film critic when he died, it seems remarkable he meshed so well with Meyer and his brigade of buxom actresses. The film will follow that relationship and the struggle with the ratings board. It became the rare major-studio release with an X rating but was a big profitable hit, and Meyer and Ebert stayed close until the former died in 2004. Ebert passed away nine years later.