EXCLUSIVE: Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado have exited Death Wish, the MGM/Paramount remake of the 1974 hit that Bruce Willis will star in, reprising the reluctant vigilante made famous by Charles Bronson. They are the Israeli filmmakers who made their debut with Rabies and then followed with 2013’s Big Bad Wolves, a violent, high-octane thriller that became a cult favorite. They do stylized action, with a sense of humor, and they wanted to inject some of that into this relaunch and it caused a clash with the studio, which has a script that Willis signed off on, and a start date and projected release date, which didn’t put MGM in the mood for a major makeover. As always, these things are attributed to “creative differences,” and I’m even told it was amicable, something that likely wasn’t the case when Joe Carnahan — who wrote the script to direct — left the project.
Creative differences is an all-encompassing chestnut that can mean a great many things, but we have a bit of illumination here courtesy of the filmmakers themselves. Creative differences were cited as recently as a couple days ago when Seth Grahame-Smith dropped out of making his directing debut on The Flash at Warner Bros. In that case, many said that Warner Bros isn’t in a big risk-taking mood at the moment and likely wanted a more experienced filmmaker that would be a safer bet, similar to what seemed to happen when the studio parted with Eli Roth and set Jon Turteltaub on its prehistoric dinosaur pic Meg that it’s making with Chinese partners.
Here, the now former Death Wish filmmakers have given a glimpse into how directors fall in and out of love with projects. They broke the news on social media in a fairly private posting to friends. Since it was done in Hebrew, nobody seemed to notice, but a source was kind enough to translate for me. It is a rocking good read.
Relief. Finally a bit of breathing room. You probably remember that a few months ago we were bombarded with greetings and congratulations on receiving our first Hollywood job, Death Wish. You might also remember that Navot and I insisted not to comment on the story or on any of your excited posts about it… not even with a “like”.
It’s not like we became snobs overnight. And it’s not like anybody prevented us from speaking out, it’s just that we found ourselves in a terrible situation. On the one hand, we were indeed offered a dream job, we were indeed offered a legendary salary, and we did indeed pass a stressful and amazing audition with the presidents of MGM and Paramount, and we even met and got the approval of one of the toughest most intimidating stars in Hollywood… yes, yes, Bruce Willis himself saw Big Bad Wolves and thought we were the right people for this violent mission.
On the other hand, the news caught us by surprise, because in reality there were huge differences between our vision and the vision of the studio with the famous roaring lion… we wanted to stay away from the original and problematic (albeit fun to watch) Michael Winner film, and move more towards the spirit of the original novel by Brian Garfield – an excellent minimalist novel that never got the cinematic treatment it deserved. We wanted to follow the vision of the director who originally was set to make it, but ultimately was not allowed to – Sidney Lumet. Lumet wanted to direct a film about a simple man, he even thought of Jack Lemmon for the lead, which experiences a terrible tragedy and then falls to the depths of hell. When we imagined the thriller in our minds we thought Taxi Driver, Falling Down… with a bloodcurdling finale like Sicario.
Unfortunately, the time table for the project did not allow us to make the big changes we wanted to make to the script, and as time passed we realized that we were not going to get what we wanted for this project.
Last night, after long deliberations we finally decided to leave the project.
It was not easy.
To know that you’re giving up money, fame, the opportunity to work with a big star… that you’re kicking the door in Hollywood’s face… knowing that you’re disappointing everybody who supported and encouraged you and wanted you to fulfill your dreams –
All this can really mess with your head and make you doubt yourself. And so it did. But anybody who knows us even for a minute, knows that we’ve never compromised on our vision.
These were three grueling months, three months during which time I walked around wearing sunglasses because I was afraid to answer uncomfortable questions.
Today I can finally take them off and say thank you for your support, your embrace and all the love.
So what now?
A little peace and quiet, a lot of patience and above all, love.
MGM has been trying to get the remake of the 1974 vigilante tale off the ground for years; Dino De Laurentiis Company made the movie and so MGM owned those rights. It started with this one off the ground for several years and a script that was started by Carnahan with subsequent drafts by Dan Gilroy and Graham Yost. Roger Birnbaum is producing, and the intention was to hew closely to the book, about an architect whose life is destroyed by a violent crime against his wife and daughter. Frustrated that the perpetrators are not held to pay for the violence and degradation these thugs inflicted on his family, the architect takes to the streets and begins dispatching bad guys himself. It seems like a perfect new franchise for Willis at this stage of his career, and he has the chops to make it interesting.
Once they get a new director. The filmmakers are in high demand and they’ll find a job quick enough.