With Christmas approaching, legions of misanthropists will probably whip out their copies of Bad Santa in the coming weeks to celebrate the three Bs, according to Marcus the Elf: “More booze, more bullsh*t, more butt-f*cking.” While we’re all in the thanking mood, however, it’s also worth expressing a debt of gratitude to Terry Zwigoff, who not only directed Bad Santa, but also rescued it from a more mainstream edit that the Coen Brothers — executive producers and script polishers on the film — described as a “piece of sh*t.”
Let’s back up a minute. As some of you may know, Bad Santa was written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who also wrote Richard Linklater’s Bad News Bears remake and directed Steve Carell’s Crazy. Stupid. Love. The writing duo actually wrote the film with the Coen Brothers in mind, hoping to convince them to break their rule about not directing other people’s screenplays. They didn’t accomplish that, but the Coen Brothers did like the screenplay enough to not only send it to Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Ghost World) to direct, but to help rewrite the script (the Coens are not credited, but they massaged a lot of the dialogue).
The partnership between Zwigoff and the Coens had its own difficulties. The Coen Brothers, for instance, thought that casting Tony Cox as Marcus the Elf would “ruin the film” because they couldn’t see the elf as “being black.” They were clearly wrong.
The real problems arrived, however, when the Weinsteins — who were running Dimension Films at the time — got involved. They wanted a more commercial film, and went so far as to have additional scenes filmed by someone other than Zwigoff in order to make the film appeal to a wider audience.
The Coens hated the Weinsteins’ edit. As Zwigoff once told The Playlist:
At one point the Weinsteins asked [the Coens] to watch a cut that the Weinsteins had done that made it much more mainstream … The Coen brothers watched it. They said, “Well, you tried to make this film into American Pie. It’s a piece of sh(t now.” That was their response and they got into a heated argument with the Weinsteins that ended with everyone yelling “F*ck you” at each other. They didn’t want any part of it after that so I was stuck with it. It got pretty nasty.
Zwigoff, thankfully, had negotiated final cut in his contract (in fact, he says he gave up half his asking salary in order to guarantee final cut). Still, the Weinsteins insisted on pushing their edit on Zwigoff until the director took it to DGA arbitration. While he couldn’t disclose the terms of their agreement, he did say, “A lot of what they shot, they tested and it didn’t work, so they got rid of it anyway. Then I got to work to push it closer to my original version. It was damage control at that point.”
Because the Bad Santa that we all know and love bears no resemblance whatsoever to American Pie, we can assume that Zwigoff got all, or at least, most of what he wanted in arbitration, saving it from a Weinsten version that might have performed better at the box office in the short term, but certainly wouldn’t have had the longevity that Zwigoff’s edit has had.
Of course, we still have to worry about the upcoming sequel, Bad Santa 2, due out next year, which will come from director Mark Waters (Mean Girls (good!) and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (not good!) and writer Doug Ellin of Entourage fame. That writer/director pairing’s going to require more whiskey.
Source: The Playlist