Flashback: January 2006

Recent comments led me to a Total Film piece not previously mentioned here, as it’s from January 2006, prior to this site’s launch.

But what of this idea that Goners might go first? “Universal’s Mary Parent has it. She’s been setting up and working on it knowing that I was finishing my draft of Wonder Woman. But she and I are going to sit down soon and thrash out the work that needs to be done on that, and it really is going to be a case of, ‘which draft is in better shape? Who is ready to pull the switch?’ and then I’ll do whichever. Goners has been very close to my heart for years. Wonder Woman is something I’m in love with as well. I can’t lose!”

Ouch.

Whedon is fairing better this year, with The Cabin in the Woods and The Avengers opening, his micro-studio working up Much Ado About Nothing and In Your Eyes, progress toward Dr. Horrible‘s follow-up, and apparent movement on Wastelanders with Warren Ellis.

Image of directing traffic courtesy Daniel Guy via the specified Creative Commons license.

Dear Universal, Free Goners

It would seem from The Playlist‘s coverage from SXSW (cited in the previous post here) that Joss Whedon’s views of Goners‘ prospects might be described, in one fan’s words, as “optimistically depressing”.

What appears to have happened is that the endless series of rewrites for the studio (as well as the collapse of Wonder Woman) led to Whedon souring somewhat on the studio process, which likely helps explain his September 2009 plea via SCI FI Wire (now Blastr): “Universal, release Goners into the wild so it can be free again.”

As part of the existing Dear Universal, FREE GONERS effort, you now can write an open letter to Universal Pictures via a new website called Write Public.

Dear Universal Pictures,

Joss Whedon has called Goners a supernatural thriller, a kind of horror film, and a young woman’s journey. “It’s an antidote to the horror movie with the expendable human beings in it,” he once said. “Because I don’t believe any human beings are.”

Written after he finished filming Serenity, the script spent a number of years at Universal Pictures in rewrites only to be end up on the back burner by the middle of 2008, not long after Mary Parent (the executive interested in the script, as she had been in Serenity) left the studio for a position at MGM.

In a September 2009 interview with SCI FI Wire, Whedon responded to a question about the status of the script with a simple request: “Universal, release Goners into the wild so it can be free again.”

Since several years of rewrites led only to the project being put on the back burner, I respectfully urge you to do as he asks, so that the film can move forward.

As part of his fan base, I defer to whatever his wishes might be on just how that should happen. My own wish simply is to express my support for his request.

Please free Goners.

This letter (mine, obviously) can serve as a model, or you can write your own. Whatever words you use, please remember to be respectful and courteous. After all, we are asking them to do something they are under no obligation to do, and we are taking up some of their time to do so.

It should be noted that the loss of both Wonder Woman and Goners in the end yielded a creative path which included the writing and production of The Cabin in the Woods and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, a return to television with Dollhouse, landing the summer blockbuster that is The Avengers, forming a micro-studio to produce Much Ado About Nothing and In Your Eyes, and forward movement, apparently, on the web series Wastelanders with Warren Ellis.

In no way should expressing support for Goners be taken to be disappointment with the slate of projects Whedon has managed to manifest since that project got sidelined. It’s indisputably a very exciting time be a Joss Whedon fan.

But I and many others will always and forever be Team Goners and my appetite for that mysterious project remains frustratingly unsated. And so, this, even though, in all likelihood, it’s all just so much tilting at windmills.

With Whedon’ 2009 public plea to Universal, and his clear hesitation to return to the frustrations of the process which trapped the project in development hell to begin with, perhaps, even as we gear up for all he’s bringing us this year and next, it’s worth making at least a little bit of fuss about Goners, too.

Image of Don Quixote and the windmill courtesy Robin Ator via the specified Creative Commons license.

On Goners And Goldfish At SXSW

There has been some talk about, after ‘The Avengers,’ trying to resurrect it. I’m not sure what that process would be like.

At today’s conversation with Joss Whedon event at SXSW, there was an audience question about Goners. At this point, all we have is an incomplete transcript of the exchange via the Snarkmarket live coverage.

Audience: Whatever happened with Goners? The way you described Cabin in the Woods was sort of how you’d described Goners.

JW: Goners and Cabin were very different movies. [Exposition about the fate of Goners that seems complex and hard to summarize.]

Short story is, Joss felt yanked around by studios with Goners. He describes the feeling of constantly being jerked around as being akin to the experience of being a goldfish.

If at some point someone posts a complete transcription of this exchange, rather than Snarkmarket’s attempt to give the gist of Whedon’ remarks, I’ll post it here. In the meantime, some thoughts.

First, whoever asked the question likely was referring to the fact that in a recent interview about The Cabin in the Woods (don’t read until you’ve seen the movie) Whedon made an observation.

I think that’s the thread that’s going to run through all of my stuff: Nobody is expendable

That’s remarkably similar to something he said back in 2006 about Goners.

But it’s told on a very mystical scale and, in a way like everything I’ve tried to do including Buffy, it’s an antidote to that very kind of film, the horror movie with the expendable human beings in it. Because I don’t believe any human beings are.

As for Whedon’s description of the development process on Goners over at Universal, for which we currently have only the reporter’s “short story” version and not Whedon’s actual quote, it sounds mainly like a more blatantly stated version of the sense one gets from the slideshow of quotes over on Dear Universal, FREE GONERS (and scattered as well throughout the Development category here), so perhaps not entirely a surprise.

It’s not clear from Snarkmarket’s coverage if Whedon spoke only of the development process or also gave any indication of Goners‘ current status or potential for revival (or rescue), but it doesn’t sound like it.


Update: Thanks to The Playlist, whose coverage of the panel includes the following lengthy section on the Goners exchange, edited only for additional paragraph breaks.

When someone asked in the crowd about “Goners,” the 2005 spec script sold for “seven figures” to Universal, they asked if elements of the screenplay, which was said to have been a kind of widescreen horror epic, had been cannibalized for “Cabin in the Woods.” Whedon had described the movie as “Like ‘Buffy,’ but scary,” but said little else in the way of details.

None of “Goners” is in “Cabin in the Woods,” though.

“‘Goners’ and ‘Cabin in the Woods’ are very different movies. ‘Goners’ was sold to Universal through Mary Parent. She was the de facto producer of [big screen adaptation of his short-lived ‘Firefly’ television series] ‘Serenity.’ And she set up her shingle at Universal, so I thought it would be protect. But the new people that came in turned around and said, ‘No.'”

Whedon remains cautiously optimistic about the project: “There has been some talk about, after ‘The Avengers,’ trying to resurrect it. I’m not sure what that process would be like.”

He still sounds wary of the studio system that had treated him so poorly (“I think I come up with super-commercial ideas”), and “Goners” was certainly part of his entrance into the creative wilderness.

“‘Goners’ came after ‘Wonder Woman.’ And that was the kind of one-two punch that made me do ‘Cabin’ and ‘Dr. Horrible.’ I had been led to think that, well, sometimes you’re not naive, you’re a goldfish. But ‘Goners’ was, like ‘Cabin,’ about getting under the skin of horror in a big way, and I’d love to make it but I don’t know if I can suffer through the process.”

Image of goldfish courtesy Jon Culver via the specified Creative Commons license.

Can Joss Whedon Buy Back Goners?

There was an interesting claim in a recent Hollywood Reporter article about the screenwriter of Man on a Ledge that left some Goners fans eagerly wondering.

What saved Ledge was a WGA-required provision in Fenjves’ contract that allows the author of a script to reacquire the rights to unproduced original material at the five-year mark; it’s not a provision used very often, since most writers don’t have the funding to take back their projects, and the time period for reclaiming the material is short.

So, is this true? And, if so, is that five-year mark something specific to this particular contract, rather than a standard period? What’s more, just how “short” is the time period for reclaiming a script?

As it turns out, the Writers Guild of America has a page on its website dedicated to reacquiring scripts, and the above appears to be true. But six conditions need to be satisfied for a reacquisition attempt.

  1. Was the project theatrical?
  2. Was the project done under employment or, if it was a sale, were you a professional writer at time of sale?
  3. Was the project not based on any pre-existing material?
  4. Has it been AT LEAST 5 years and NOT MORE than 7 years since you last delivered material to the Company?
  5. Has the project never been produced?
  6. Is it currently not in active development?

Here’s what we know (or don’t know) about Goners in light of the above. Goners, of course, was a theatrical project, and the script, if I’m reading the copyright record correctly, was written as a “work for hire”. (That copyright record is dated March 3, 2005. Additionally, the “short form option” for the script, between Mutant Enemy, Inc. and Universal, was recorded with the copyright office on November 29, 2007, with a date of execution of November 2, 2007.) The script was not based on pre-existing material, has never been produced, and unless something secretly has changed is not in active development.

That last point is important, and likely factors into the criteria I skipped, that of the two-year time period starting at five years out, so let’s take a moment to look at Goners’ development process as currently understood.

As far as is known, Joss has not delivered a draft of Goners to Universal since sometime in 2007, when his then-latest was “not incredibly well-received”. By the middle of 2008, the project was known to have gotten back-burnered by the studio. As late as mid-2010, Joss had indicated that there’d been some interest expressed at revisiting Goners when he was finished making The Avengers.

So, back to the critical time period criteria. Based on the above (plus this), the last time Whedon delivered a draft of Goners to Universal appears to have been in 2007, which would make the start of the two-year reacquisition period 2012. This year.

In theory, then, under this particular provision of the WGA’s Theatrical and Television Basic Agreement, and if all of the above development and rewrite dates are correct, Whedon has access to a process for buying back the script, during the time period running roughly from late 2012 to late 2014.

The two wild cards in all of this, however, are: the aforementioned potential for revisiting the project now that The Avengers is nearing release; and, of course, money. In the case of the former, the almost inevitable success of that film could certainly reignite interest on the part of anyone who happily turns out to own a script penned by Whedon. In the case of the latter, that same success surely would yield no end of producers willing to help Whedon extricate a script in which he was still interested.

And that, in the end, appears to be the most critical issue: is Whedon still interested in Goners?

He certainly still was just a year and a half ago when he made those remarks about certain parties revisiting it. So, as near as I can tell and if all of the above dates are correct, beginning this year — a year which will see the release of The Avengers, The Cabin in the Woods, Much Ado About Nothing, and the production of In Your Eyes—on Goners the ball potentially could very much be in Whedon’s court.


Update: Any writerly types want to weigh in on whether or not the second reacquisition type mentioned on the WGA page in question comes into play here, based on the information related above about Goners?

Update: A note about the wild card of money: Variety reported at the time of the script sale in 2005 that Universal paid “seven figures” for it, which certainly helps reflect the Hollywood Reporter remark that “most writers don’t have the funding to take back their projects”.

Shitty Movies

Speaking during the Savannah Film Festival, Ron Meyer — President and COO of Universal Pictures — had a number of candid things to say about the quality of that studio’s recent output, summing it up thusly: “We make a lot of shitty movies.”

This site would like to humbly suggest that one way to avoid this alleged problem would be to pull Goners out of the development hell into which the studio so ignominously sent it. Then again, given his self-criticism about how poorly they’ve handled other productions, perhaps that’s not the best idea?

I’m taking no position on his observations here, but if for the sake of argument we take them at face value, if he’s correct about their mishandling of so many recent productions, maybe unshelving Goners isn’t enough.

Instead, Meyer could simply choose to free it, thereby allowing it to pursue production elsewhere. That wouldn’t much help with Meyer’s charge against his own studio, but it would at least get things moving again.