Interview with Tales from Development Hell Author David Hughes

I am a big fan of David Hughes’ book, Tales from Development Hell – The Greatest Movies Never Made. It is a really fun book filled with lots re-readable material (perfect summer book). Since I am such a big fan I was super excited to have Mr. Hughes answer a few questions about his book, some what ifs and other Hollywood projects I have been curious about.

R – Just like in movies with their deleted scenes, I am interested in what is left on the cutting room floor with other mediums. Are their projects that you did not cover in the book that you wanted to because the research did not pan out or it just did not come across as interesting?

DH – A bunch! But I’m still hoping they’ll coalesce into enough material for another volume… More Tales from Development Hell!?

R – I loved your chapter on Middle Earth and especially enjoyed a small look into the personal way Tolkien thought about his work and its potential translation onto the screen. Did your opinion of anyone in the industry change as a result of your research and writing?

DH – I was a little surprised that Robert Redford, someone I always admired and had huge respect for, had virtually killed Ridley Scott’s The Hot Zone by having his own writer ‘punch up’ his character until he and Jodie Foster’s character no longer had equal prominence, which caused Jodie to walk, and the film to collapse. As a result, we got Wolfgang Petersen’s B-movie Outbreak instead of what I think would have been a much more interesting and grown-up film.

R – You cover so many great projects in the book, which would you personally like see get made and how would you do it?

DH – The Hot Zone could still be made, and you could definitely revive Walon Green’s Crusade with one of the new beefcake actors, maybe Chris Hemsworth or someone like that. But it would never hold a candle to the film that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Paul Verhoeven would have made, because few people in Hollywood today have that kind of outrageous bombast. That said, the ‘sword and sandals’ genre has definitely made a massive comeback, so even though things like the Conan remake have failed, sooner or later someone will dust off Crusade and realize it’s one of the greatest movies never made. Then, of course, they’ll immediately set about rewriting it, and ruin it.

R – Whenever I finished a chapter in your book, I was left with this great “What If” moment, as my mind tries to figure out what might have been if certain projects had happened or not happened. Have you ever considered Alt Entertainment History as a subject? I would be first in to buy it.

DH – That’s an intriguing idea! You mean, what would the world be like if Tom Selleck had been cast as Indiana Jones? Yeah, that would make for an interesting ‘parallel universe’ kind of timeline. You could do it year by year. My favourite film would be Space Man From Pluto starring Eric Stoltz. Someone should make a T-shirt!

R – A lot of interesting projects still seem to be getting canceled for one reason or another. Will we ever see a full blown sequel toTales from Development Hell?

DH – I hope so! But it isn’t enough just to write about projects that withered on the vine – bloggers satisfy that job. The point of the book was to peek behind the curtain to find out why these projects fail, rather than just which projects didn’t get made. That takes a massive amount of research, including interviews, and people often don’t want to talk about the projects that didn’t get off the ground. It’s like asking a woman with several children about her miscarriages.

R – I just want to bring up one recently canceled project and see what you thought, especially as someone with perspective and insight into this world. I was wondering what you thought about the canceling of At the Mountains of Madness? In your opinion do you think we will ever see a big budget version of anything written by HP Lovecraft?

DH – Well, as the man himself might have said, “That is not dead which can eternal lie…” I was pretty gutted when At the Mountains of Madness went into turnaround – I mean, if you’ve got Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise and Guillermo del Toro on board… The problem was, as is often the case, the numbers didn’t add up – it would have had to be the biggest horror movie of all time to break even – so Universal put it on ice. Of course I would love to see a great Lovecraft adaptation, but in the meantime the silent movie based on The Call of Cthulhu is pretty damned good: http://www.cthulhulives.org/cocmovie/

R – Do you have any thought as to where John Carter went wrong?

DH – I haven’t seen it, so I really couldn’t comment – I don’t even know if it did go wrong, as far as audiences (rather than Disney shareholders) are concerned. Everybody paid the same for their ticket as they would have for any other movie, so the fact that it lost $200 million is really nobody’s business unless it was your money. You may as well ask what went wrong with Mars Needs Moms, which lost a similar sum. As far as the development story goes, you’ll need my earlier book The Greatest Sci-fi Movies Never Made.

R – Your book covers remarkable shifts in the power structure of film over the years. Where do you think the future of cinema is headed?

DH – From a studio perspective, to an even more conservative place: increasing budgets, tightening belts and the absence of any star who can actually open movies consistently (unlike, say, Tom Cruise in the ‘80s and ‘90s) will lead studios to back more remakes, sequels and adaptations of popular books (and comic books)… But at the same time, social media will open up direct access to filmmakers, agents, script readers etc like never before, meaning that anyone with an original idea may find it easier to connect with Hollywood. The interesting thing about the lack of stars is that content becomes king: people want to see Transformers or Battleship or G.I. Joe or Paranormal Activity or The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones or Rise of the Planet of the Apes or X-Men First Class or Hunger Games – and the audience doesn’t give a damn who’s playing the parts! Nobody is going to see a non-Hunger Games or X-Men film with Jennifer Lawrence (although that won’t stop Hollywood trying to carry on with the old system of trying to attach Actor A (who was in a big successful movie) to Project B just because they don’t know any different. Hollywood was, and is, and always will be, a crapshoot. The thing executives have to do is try to skew the odds as much in their favour as possible, to limit their exposure to risk – or at least make their decisions as justifiable as possible. If even the biggest flops look good on paper, people tend to keep their jobs. And that, in the current climate, is what executives will always put first.

Thanks to Mr. Hughes for sitting down to answer some of these questions. If you love film and the minutia and personalities behind big projects that get made or ones that just could not get off the ground, you will want to pick up your copy of Tales From Development Hell (New Updated Edition): The Greatest Movies Never Made? from Amazon or if your into high tech reading order it for your Kindle. More of an SF fan? Why not check out Hughes’ book, The Greatest Sci-fi Movies Never Made? I ordered my copy last night and cannot wait to get it.

Retroist Jetsons Podcast

Retroist Jetsons Podcast

Welcome to the Retroist Jetsons Podcast. On today’s show I talk all about the hit Sci-Fi cartoon series, The Jetsons. I talk about the pre-production, the cast, production of the show, its reception in the US and much much more. This is a very special episode because I get to talk with Judy Jetson herself, Janet Waldo! Janet and I talk about working on the Jetsons, how she landed the role, the process of working on the show, her work on Battle of the Planets, working with Bing Crosby and much much more. It was a real honor to talk to her.

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Weird Al “Interviews” Madonna (1985)

This “interview” for Madonna was from AL-TV from way back in 1985. I really do not know why the powers that be did not jump on the gem of entertainment that AL-TV and make it a regular late night weekly show. My friends and I would talk about episodes for weeks after we saw them, we could never get enough Al.

Well that boat has sailed, but at least they should release these gems on DVD.

Q&A with with Jeff Bridge About TRON: Legacy

If you enjoyed the Q&A that was sent to us to post on Wednesday with Steven Lisberger, I think you will enjoy this one with Kevin Flynn himself, Jeff Bridges as he answers questions about TRON Legacy. Enjoy and remember TRON: LEGACY is Available on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD and Movie Download April 5th!

Kevin Flynn

What was your initial reaction when you heard that Disney was interested in making a sequel to TRON?
There have been rumors of a TRON sequel circulating for many years. The first rumor probably started about 20 years ago, so I gave up on the idea because it never looked like it was going to happen. I guess Disney had the sequel on its back burners and they weren’t satisfied with any of the scripts that turned up over the years, so they waited and waited. I’m very happy they did because they held out to find the right guy to be at the helm: director Joseph Kosinski. I think they really found a terrific leader in Joe, and they also found a terrific script.

What makes Joseph Kosinski a great director?
It’s always interesting to discover where a director comes from, whether he’s a writer, an actor or whatever. Joe was an architect and to have an architect at the helm of this movie was terrific. He was up to date with all of the modern techniques in special effects and he had a great visual style. He was also terrific with actors and he had great ideas. When this project was presented to me, I thought to myself, ‘This sounds like something I would love to do.’ The first movie tickled the kid in me – and the sequel did exactly the same. I get to play a guy who is sucked inside a computer and I get to play with all of the new toys that we have available to us with modern technology and filmmaking. To be involved with something so cutting edge was extremely exciting to me. I jumped at the chance to sign up.

What did you think of having Garrett Hedlund play Kevin Flynn’s son in the movie?
Garrett is a great guy. I have three daughters and no sons, but when I look at Garrett, I can see that he could be my son. There’s something about him that reminds me of myself, which is why casting him as my son was perfect. He was a joy to work with and I think he did an amazing job in TRON: Legacy. He’s going to go far.

How does it feel to see people excited about the world of TRON again?
It feels great. It’s very exciting. I have taken a number of trips to Comic-Con with TRON: Legacy over the last few years and you can really feel the energy of the fans at events like that. They have been really excited about the project. In fact, the fans have been an integral part in getting the TRON world back together. A few years ago, we went to Comic-Con to test a couple of minutes of film with audiences. The director, the production designer and our special effects supervisor joined forces to give audiences a two-minute taste of what the movie might be like if this project could fly and to see if people really wanted to see it. The audience really enjoyed that Disney felt they wanted to make this fantastic world come to life again. Comic-Con was very instrumental in getting this movie made.

What was the most challenging aspect of the film shoot?
As an actor, I really enjoy costumes, sets and makeup. These elements inform your performance and you learn to count on them. However, a lot of TRON: Legacy was filmed without costumes, without makeup and without sets. When you don’t have these things around you, you’re thrown back to your childhood – to the time when you were a little kid playing in the garden. Back then, you didn’t have a castle and you didn’t have a sword. You had to use a stick as a sword and your castle was a box. It was all in your mind. That’s exactly what we had to do in this movie. We had to play ‘pretend’ because we didn’t have the costumes or the sets or the props. It was fascinating.

Do you ask a lot of questions when you work on a film set in an alternate universe with its own rules?
Oh, sure. I ask a lot of questions with whatever film I’m working on – and the director is always the guy to go to.

What kind of questions did you ask about TRON: Legacy?
Joe Kosinski was very inclusive because he allowed me into the writing process and the development of the story. I was interested in creating a modern myth, so I didn’t want the movie to just be about design and the battles. I wanted the movie to have something to say and I wanted the story to be enthralling and captivating.

What appealed to you the most in the movie’s script?
One of the things that drew me to this movie was a chance to be part of creating a modern day myth. Myths are so important for us to help navigate the treacherous waters of being alive. Each age has its own challenges and I feel that technology is certainly one of ours.

Are you not happy with today’s technology?
In some ways, technology is wonderful – but there is a darker side to it that we don’t examine as much as we should. We need to think about the ramifications of what we’re doing. We drink water from plastic bottles that we think are biodegradable, but then we discover that they last for hundreds of years. We bitch about oil spills, but every year we put 100 million tons of plastic into the ocean. That’s worse than the awful oil spill in 2010. I think it’s a matter of educating people and thinking about where we want to go with technology – and what we want to do with it. We could use it in beautiful ways, but I think it’s natural for us to want immediate gratification.

Are there any positive aspects to advances in technology?
What are the good things about technology? Like most things in life, technology is a double-edged sword. When we made the first TRON movie, there was no internet. Now, it’s a huge part of our everyday lives. The internet gives us the chance to link up and be connected – and that’s a great thing.

Can you survive without the internet?
Listen, I don’t Tweet. I don’t Facebook. I don’t do any of that stuff. It’s all too much. I have a website and I draw, but that’s about it. I went to the internet because I thought it would be a way to release an album that I created years ago. I can put it out there in the world and then I get messages from people in places like Russia saying, “I dig your thing, man.” That’s exciting. That’s a positive thing that technology can do. That’s a positive link. I’m very happy about that. Very happy indeed.