Fresh off Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson will write and possibly direct a live-action version of Pinocchio for Warner Brothers … wait, what?!?
Apparently, Anderson is a buddy with Robert Downey Jr. who is set to play Geppetto; so somebody is cashing in a favour. Best explanation: Downey dropped out of Inherent Vice and was replaced by Joaquin Phoenix. Worst explanation: one of them knows where the bodies are buried. Maybe Anderson just wants to build his dream pool? He deserves it.
While hardcore Anderson fans cry “sellout”, it’s quite common for known filmmakers to have a screenplay smudge on their resume, albeit, most of these credits are early in their careers, but a screenwriting credit and payday nonetheless.
While the final product may not represent the filmmaker’s work on the script, with subsequent rewrites and the work of un-credited script doctors, it wasn’t an experience humiliating enough for them to use a pseudonym. Plus hindsight makes this exercise lot easier, so enjoy the seven filmmakers with dents in their resumes.
The Films These Seven Filmmakers Want You to Forget Happened
Joss Whedon, Alien Resurrection (1997)
It’s debatable how much of Whedon’s script made it into the film after meddling from ghost-writers, 20th Century Fox Executives and Sigourney Weaver (to return she bagged $11 million, a co-producer credit and a dictatorship over the film). Whedon was hired to write Resurrection after his success with screenplays for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Toy Story. What impressed Fox execs the most was the un-credited work Whedon had been doing punching-up scripts, most notably, the action hit Speed for Fox. Whedon is responsible for a majority of Speed’s dialogue such as the often quoted “pop quiz hot-shot”. Whedon was tasked by Fox with writing a new film based in the Alien universe that focused on a clone of Newt from Aliens. Whedon starting building a story around Newt 2.0 but was informed by Fox that the clone was to be switched to Ellen Ripley to court Weaver to return to the role. Once Weaver agreed to come back, off the strength she saw in Whedon’s script, she came with her own demands, one of them being a scene where Ripley makes love with the xenomorph to create the alien-human hybrid that appears toward the end of Resurrection; a low point in the franchise. Whedon summed up his involvement with Resurrection best in an interview with Total Film Magazine, “Yeah – you don’t ever get over it. When you are making a movie you are making something that is going to last forever, especially now with the internet. So there is always going to be a shitty Alien movie out there. A shitty Alien movie with my name on it”.
James Cameron. Piranha 2: The Spawning (1982)
The origins of juggernaut filmmaker James Cameron are odd because he didn’t direct his directorial début. Before Terminator, Titanic and Avatar, there was Piranha 2: The Spawning. Cameron was working on Piranha 2 as the special effects director, but came to direct the film after the first guy hired for the job, Miller Drake, was fired by the producers. Cameron should have foreseen Drake’s removal as a sign that something was fishy. Cameron was fighting with the producers a week into the shoot and was denied access to view the footage he’d shot as well as getting banned from the editing room. The producers slowly took over every element of the production but kept Cameron’s name on the film as director. He saved humiliation on the screenwriting side by going under the pseudonym H.A. Milton. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Cameron spoke of how he views it on his filmography, “I have a credit as the director on that film. However, I was replaced after two-and-a-half weeks by the Italian producer. He just fired me and took over, which is what he wanted to do when he hired me. It wasn’t until much later that I even figured out what had happened. It was like, ‘Oh, man, I thought I was doing a good job.’ But when I saw what they were cutting together, it was horrible. And then the producer wouldn’t take my name off the picture because [contractually] they couldn’t deliver it with an Italian name. So they left me on, no matter what I did. I had no legal power to influence him from Pomona, California, where I was sleeping on a friend’s couch. I didn’t even know an attorney. In actual fact, I did some directing on the film, but I don’t feel it was my first movie…”.
JJ Abrams, Armageddon (1998)
Like Whedon, JJ Abrams came through the Hollywood system as a screenwriter and script doctor before finding mainstream success on television with Alias (Whedon went big with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series). Abrams has a few questionable writing credits worth acknowledging including the James Belushi star vehicle Taking Care of Business and the weepies Regarding Henry and Forever Young, but nothing sticks out like his contribution to Michael Bay’s Armageddon. To put some perspective on Abrams’ involvement, nine writers worked on the film, five were credited; God knows how many more were paid to keep quiet about their involvement mopping up the mess. Abrams allegedly only worked on the script in its earliest incarnation and wasn’t going to get a credit due to the number of writers who had meddled with the screenplay, but Bay liked Abrams enough to bring him back to polish the dialogue and Abrams ended got his credit which is now a smudge on his IMDB profile.
Frank Darabont, Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (1987)
Going through Darabont’s career, Dream Warriors, by far, prompts so much head scratching you’ll think you’ve got fleas. The simple explanation is that it was his first official screenwriting credit. The Nightmare on Elm Street creator, Wes Craven, had protested sequels being made to his first film but persisted begrudgingly behind the scenes, relinquishing the director’s chair but staying involved in the writing process. Craven and Bruce Wagner working on the first script for Dream Warriors and Darabont was recruited to work with Chuck Russell on re-writes. The Craven-Wagner script was less comical and featured more sex and grotesque kills. Craven wanted to expand Freddy Kruger’s backstory but introduce elements that tied directly to moments and characters from the first film. The Darabont-Russell script is apparently closer to what’s in the final film and they added storyline of Kruger’s mother being a nun and the origins of Freddy as the “bastard son of a hundred maniacs”. Dream Warriors is a steep drop off in the quality of the Elm Street series, but without it, there’s no Shawshank Redemption, so it’s worth the pain.
Christopher McQuarrie, The Tourist (2010)
Nominated for three Golden Globe Awards, count it, three! There is very little information about McQuarrie’s involvement in The Tourist and it’s probably because he’s paying whoever controls the Internet to keep it that way. If you want to know how much goodwill McQuarrie has after he wrote The Usual Suspects, it’s his ability to continually work after putting his name to The Tourist, and for everyone to forget about it.
David Ayer, U-571 (2000)
Ayer’s credits are like his films: tonally out of control with flashes of brilliance. Ayer was one of the writers on the Fast and the Furious and wrote Denzel Washington an Academy Award winning role with Training Day. Also, he delivered the excellent WWII tank film last year, Fury, which is worth checking out if you haven’t yet. Ayer also wrote another WWII film, the wildly historically inaccurate U-571, which told the tale of American troops capturing the German’s Enigma machine. The film got everything wrong and pissed off everyone in Britain. Ayer admitted the whole thing was a mistake in an interview with BBC Radio, “It was a distortion…a mercenary decision…to create this parallel history in order to drive the film for an American audience…both my grandparents were officers in WWII, and I would be personally offended if somebody distorted their achievements”. Kudos for the apology, now where’s one for Fast and the Furious?
John Hughes, Flubber (1997)
Hughes has an incredible number of films to his name, and his filmography would be damn near perfect if it wasn’t for Flubber. Freaking Flubber. God-damn-Disney’s Flubber. You can’t go onto any social media site and reference the greatness of Hughes without a smartass reminding you about Flubber. Hughes was hired to re-write Billy Walsh’s screenplay that was an adaptation of Samuel W. Taylor’s short story A Situation of Gravity. Early in production Steven Spielberg was considered as a producer, so maybe Hughes jumped on board so he could work with Spielberg. Who knows? This is one that will haunt me forever.
By Cameron Williams
Follow Cameron Williams on Twitter @MrCamW