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 of 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 there 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.
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: The Greatest Movies Never Made? from Amazon. 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.