Guest Post – From Vision to Film: American Gangster


Welcome to a new edition of From Vision to Film, courtesy of my pal Ted S., the movie connoisseur and walking movie encyclopedia 😀 We always try to be timely with this post series, so we’re posting it today to coincide with Russell Crowe’s new movie The Next Three Days (read my full review) and Denzel Washington’s train flick Unstoppable currently in theaters. Oh, and director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Brooklyn Finest) has been in this week’s news as he’ll be directing a Tobey Maguire’s produced sci-fi thriller Afterburn, with recent b’day boy Gerard Butler in talks to star (check The Wrap for details, thanks to ScarletSp1der for the tip!)


Here’s the story behind the Ridley Scott’s thriller American Gangster:

After directing a big budgeted version of King Arthur, director Antoine Fuqua was attached to direct another big budgeted film, American Gangster. The film was supposed to start shooting in the fall of 2004, and released in the holiday/Oscar season of 2005. Unfortunately, King Arthur tanked at the box office that summer and the executives over at Universal Studios were quite nervous about green lighting a $150 mil movie with a director whose recent film has just gotten awful reviews and worse, didn’t make much money in theaters. So they asked the writer to rewrite the script to cut some costs and also move the filming from NY to Canada. Fuqua didn’t have problems with the script being rewritten, but he refused to move the production to Canada. He said he wanted to shoot the whole film in NY so it’s authentic; unfortunately for him, he didn’t have any power to demand such a thing from the studio considering the circumstances of King Arthur‘s box office bust.
After a couple of months of bickering, the studio decided to fire Fuqua and pushed the release date back to 2006. Had Fuqua directed the film, the cast would’ve been Denzel Washington and Benicio Del Toro (Russell Crowe got the role in the actual film). Both Denzel and Benicio got a pay-or-play deal, which basically means they both got paid for doing nothing as the film was put on hold in late 2004.

Scott with his lead actors on the set

So in early 2005, Universal hired a new director Terry George to get the film back on track. They were hoping it could still make the release date of summer 2006. George wanted to cast Don Cheadle as Frank Lucas and Joaquin Phoenix as Richie Roberts. I’m not sure why George left the project in mid-2005, but my guess is that either the studio didn’t like his casting or they didn’t agree on the budget, or both.

After Terry George left the project, Peter Berg came on board in late 2005 but left the project by year’s end. I think Berg just wasn’t that interested in making the film and again budget was a big concern. Universal didn’t want to spend more than $100 mil on the movie and all these directors were asking for $150 mil or more.

So with three directors off the project, Universal decided to cancel the film entirely by early 2006. In came Ridley Scott in late 2006, this was after A Good Year had failed at the box office. Scott told the studio that he can finish the film and that he could make the release date of the holiday season of 2007. He has one condition, he wanted to cast Russell Crowe as detective Richie Roberts. The studio agreed and Denzel ended up coming back on the project. (Well, he never actually left the project to begin with since he spent quite a bit of time prepping for the role before the production was shut down). So not only did Scott finished the film on time and on budget, the film was a box office hit. I think the studio was hoping for Oscar glory though, but it only got two nominations (for Art Direction and Best Supporting Actress nod for Ruby Dee). But nonetheless, I think you could say the movie was a success.


Have you seen American Gangster? Well, what did you think of the film?

From Vision to Film » Mission: Impossible 3


Welcome to the third edition of From Vision to Film series, courtesy of guest blogger Ted Saydalavong (to view the other two posts, click on the category name on the right sidebar). This movie’s been released over four years ago, but news of the fourth sequel being green-lit weeks ago makes this post quite timely. Last week, Screenrant reported that Tom Cruise is taking a salary cut to star. Don’t shed a tear for the megastar just yet though, he’s still getting “… a nice back-end after cash break-even” so if the movie makes money, he’ll still get paid a huge chunk of moolah. Anyway, here’s a history of how the Mission: Impossible: III um, exploded to the big screen:

With huge successes of the first two Mission: Impossible films (the first one made about $180 mil here in the States, while the second made around $215 mil), Paramount was rushing to deliver another installment of the adventure thriller. Not having worked with director David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club) before, Tom Cruise and Paramount invited him to come on board and develop a storyline for it. Fincher had just finished Panic Room with Jodie Foster and wanted to make an action film, so he agreed to come on board. This was in early 2002, Paramount scheduled M:I:3 for the summer 2004 release.

So while Cruise was filming The Last Samurai in New Zealand, Fincher and his team worked on the script and even story-boarded a few big action sequences for the film. One of the sequences was for the opening scene of the film in which we see an assassin killed some very important person with a sniper rifle and then we see this assassin running away after the kill; as he was running he peeled off his face and we see the main character Ethan Hunt (Cruise). The plot for this version involves some very powerful companies selling human body parts in Africa and the IMF team was assigned to stop them. Tom Cruise even went to South Africa to look for locations before they started filming.

Philip Seymour Hoffman ended up as the villain in M:I:3

Kenneth Branagh was cast as the main villain in this version and Carrie-Ann Moss (Trinity from The Matrix films) was also cast as the new team member and a love interest to Cruise’s character. In early 2003, Fincher delivered the script and described his vision to Cruise and studio executives. First, he told them that he wanted to make a very violent and bloody spy flick and he also envisioned how Ethan Hunt has aged through the years; rumor has it that Cruise was not too happy when he heard this. Well not surprisingly, Cruise and the executives told Fincher that they couldn’t green lit a hard R-rated Mission: Impossible film, which resulted in Fincher leaving the project.

After Fincher left, Cruise hired Joe Carnahan (Smoking Aces, The A-Team), hot off of his debut film Narc (which Cruise put his name on the film as Executive Producer after he saw and loved it). Carnahan decided to keep Fincher’s script but did some minor tweaks to it. He added another character to the film, the young protégé which was supposed to play by Scarlett Johansson but eventually went to Keri Russell in the final version. Carnahan wanted to make the story more geopolitics, which makes sense since the plot took place mostly in Africa. He also wanted to make a violent R-rated film and again the studio refused and a second director walked off the project.

Producer JJ Abrams with the Cruister

So by early 2004 the studio and Cruise were looking for another director to take over the project, apparently Cruise saw an episode of Alias and loved it and decided to offer J.J. Abrams the job. Abrams decided to scrap Fincher’s script and came up with his own version, which in my opinion was quite lame. Out of all three M:I films, I thought the third one was the weakest, no offense to those who love it. Abrams also recast everyone except Cruise and Ving Rhames of course. According to Carnahan, Carrie-Ann Moss had some very cool and complex action scenes in his version, and she had trained for three months or so to prepare for them. Carnahan said he felt bad for her and wished Abrams had kept her in the cast.

When the film finally opened in summer 2006, it didn’t perform as well as the studio had hoped. Now maybe Tom Cruise’s couch-jumping antics might have something to do with it. In any case, the fourth sequel was recently green-lit and scheduled to come out Christmas 2011. Brad Bird (The Incredibles, The Iron Giant, Ratatouille) has signed on to direct, which will mark his live-action directorial debut.

Apparently Abrams again came up with the concept for the fourth one and Cruise loves it. That doesn’t sound promising to me since I didn’t care for the third one. I’m still hoping we’ll get to see Fincher’s version on the big screen someday.


Thoughts on the story? Are you a fan of MI:3?