When you’re a freelance writer for any medium, recycling is the watchword. Couldn’t get your novel sold? Reinvent it as a screenplay. Can’t place your screenplay? Pitch it to TV as a series. You won’t be the first or the last to go either of these routes. Here are nine other projects that couldn’t get traction in feature films but made it on TV:
by Louisa Mellor
“Never throw anything away” goes the Womblin’ logic of creative writing.
So what if nobody right now is interested in your nine-film franchise set at an intergalactic animal rescue center (twist: the humans are the animals!). It’s probably just ahead of its time. Stow that baby in a desk drawer, wait a few years, and get busy planning the Hollywood Hills swimming pool you’re going to have built in the shape of Tina Fey’s face.
And if Hollywood doesn’t come through, perhaps it’s because your project is better suited to television. The TV shows below all started life as unmade movie projects that eventually found their perfect form on the small screen.
From a discarded Scream sequel to a Vic and Bob road movie, the following TV shows were once destined for cinema…
The Following (FOX)
Before Ehren Kruger took over script duties on Scream 3, original writer Kevin Williamson had conceived a story for the sequel involving a group of killers who “were basically a fanclub of Woodsboro kids that had formed because of Stab 1 and Stab 2 [Scream’s movie franchise-within-a-movie-franchise]”.
“They were all doing the killings,” Williamson continues, “and the big surprise of the movie was when Sidney walked into the house after Ghostface had killed everyone…and they all rose up. None of them were actually dead and they’d planned the whole thing.”
As Williamson tells it, that premise partially morphed into FOX serial killer drama, The Following (2013-2015) starring Kevin Bacon as Ryan Hardy, an FBI agent hunting down James Purefoy’s Joe Carroll, the charismatic leader of a murderous fan cult.
Mad Men (AMC)
One of the highlights of the superb Mad Men exhibition at Queens, NY’s Museum of the Moving Image this summer were three pages of hand-written notes by showrunner Matthew Weiner’s for his unmade feature screenplay, The Horseshoe. Written in the early nineties, The Horseshoe was to tell the story of a man from a poor, rural background who returned from war under the stolen identity of a dead soldier and completely reinvented himself.
Here’s a section, kindly transcribed by The Gothamist, describing The Horseshoe’s protagonist, Pete:
“My character has reached the end of a long circle, which has been filled with spirals. He has fought his inner desires, to act on them would be suicide (he has fought this also). all the time embracing the promises of the post-depression America. He is raised with hope and an almost arrogant belief that anything can be achieved. He is apathetic about history and politics, he doesn’t even follow money. For him the great pleasures of sex + alcohol (the latter usually to deaden the lack of the former) work into his decisions on everything.”
Sounds familiar, right? Wait until you meet Pete’s mother, Peggy. Weiner abandoned the movie screenplay after 50 or so pages, only returning to it years later when he began work on Mad Men.