On Edgar Wright And ‘Ant Man’: When A Studio Wants Your Name, Not Your Vision

By now you’ve probably heard all about Edgar Wright and Marvel parting ways over Ant Man, a movie Wright had been attached to since 2006, and officially onboard since 2012. If the rumors are to be believed, Wright and his writing partner Joe Cornish had come to believe they’d been hired because Marvel believed in their vision for the project, only for Marvel to later give them notes and rewrites that were such a substantial departure from what they’d been planning that they chose to leave the project.

“Edgar & Joe were upset by the sudden, out of nowhere lack of faith in them as filmmakers,” as Latino Review, who broke the story, put it.

While the truth of what happened is still unverified (and will likely remain so), when you cover the movie business for long enough, you eventually hear enough similar stories that patterns begin to emerge, and you start to understand how things work. Just a few days before the Edgar Wright news broke, I, as one of the world’s only Freddy Got Fingered superfans, was reading a Vice interview with Tom Green about trying to get that film made. As Green said about Fingered:

The movie didn’t instantly get made. The movie got bought by a major movie studio. They make all the major movies with all the major comedians. We went in for our first meeting and said I wanted to direct the movie. And they said, “What? You wanna what? You wanna direct the movie? Have you ever directed a movie?” Well, I’d directed my TV show, but that’s not a movie. I said I want to direct the movie, and I don’t want to change a thing in the script. Nothing. And they sort of looked at me, and I think they were kind of confused by that. They’d already bought the script.

Needless to say, the next day we got a call. They said, “We don’t think we can make the movie the way Tom wants to make the movie. We have to change a lot of stuff in this. We can’t do this the exact way it’s in the script.” They said they were going to put it in turnaround. That’s a film term for basically giving you a certain amount of time to sell the script to another studio. If nobody buys it after that, we own the script and it never gets made. They gave us a 30-day turnaround. That was them saying, “Screw you. You don’t want to do it the way we want to do it, so we’re basically going to throw it on a shelf.”

It seems strange to me that they bought it in the first place if they read it and saw this was the movie you wanted to make. They bought it and then wanted to change it. That’s counterintuitive.
You’d think it would be the opposite, but that’s not the way Hollywood works. They buy things and then they change it. The corporations and executives take young talent that’s interesting, bring them in, and then make their movie with them. Not make some kid from Canada’s movie. It’s some kid from Canada in their movie. They were going to make it a cookie-cutter studio movie, and I said no. I had an opportunity to make a movie. We’re gonna make our f*cking movie and we don’t give a f*ck.

In hindsight, would I have done everything the same? I probably wouldn’t have, because I would have known the effect it would have on me and my ability to make another movie. I certainly wouldn’t have been as cutthroat in my firmness when it came to creative decisions—like walking away from a studio because they wanted to take a couple of scenes out of it.

He also mentions that William Shatner was his landlord at the time, which is neither here nor there, but is nonetheless awesome.

Basically, there’s a long history of people like Tom Green (and probably Edgar Wright) selling a studio on a pitch or a script, only to have that studio turn around and want to change some of the most basic things about it. It seems to be a symptom of the way the film business treats the screenwriter. While theater contracts often give the playwright the authority “to approve almost every aspect of a show,” in the movie business, the studio and the director can do almost anything they want with a script once they’ve bought it, contributing to a mentality where a script or a pitch is just a jumping off point, or even just a job interview.