Movies

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon Tells His Crazy, Brutal Story About ‘The Current War’

Over two years ago, at the 2017 Toronto Film Festival, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (who was just coming off his Sundance-winning Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) held the world premiere of his new film, The Current War. The problem was, his film about the fight over electricity between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) was nowhere near finished. There’s a flashback to Michael Shannon’s Westinghouse fighting in the Civil War in which the actor hadn’t even been de-aged yet. Now, Gomez-Rejon was assured by then producer Harvey Weinstein that the critics in attendance knew this was a work in progress and would review it accordingly. Guess what? I was in attendance that night and no one told me anything like that. I was under the impression this was a finished film. In retrospect, this all feels like Alfonso Gomez-Rejon was set up so Weinstein could get his way with drastic edits.

You probably know what happens next, as Weinstein became the subject of incredibly dramatic stories of sexual abuse, that soon led to the dissolution of The Weinstein Company, which included the assets, and the still-unfinished version of The Current War being one of them. So this movie sat in limbo all this time, until Gomez-Rejon was allowed to recut the film the way he intended and shoot some additional scenes. Finally, his version of this movie is ready to be seen by the public – which, perhaps, includes the first time a “Director’s Cut” tag has been used on a film’s initial release.

While talking to Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, it becomes apparent how depressing the last couple of years have been for him. And, more than anything, he’s just happy he finally gets to talk about it now.

So, being frank, after the 2017 Toronto screening ended, I have never seen a group of more miserable looking people on stage.

Yeah, man. I hadn’t slept in days. Weeks. I lost 20 pounds. It was just brutal. It was a brutal, brutal journey. I knew the film wasn’t ready to be screened at all, not even remotely close. So it was a very hard time. But that was then.

Here’s what I don’t get. I read what you said to Business Insider, that you couldn’t believe people were reviewing the movie as a finished product. As a member of the media who was in the audience that night, we were never informed it wasn’t a finished product. Were you being told we were informed of that?

Yeah, I was told it was a work in progress. So part of me at the screening was, “Okay, I still have two more months on this film.” Because we weren’t going to be released until November. And then I remember reading … I don’t read anything anymore, because it just hurts so much…

I don’t blame you.

I remember reading reviews when they were criticizing the visual effects and like, they’re 30 percent there! We haven’t even finished them and never even started others! And that’s when I realized that it was being judged as a finished product. I don’t know. It was a hard time. I haven’t thought about it for a while. I blocked it out, because it was such a hard dark period for me. And now, of course, it’s part of the conversation. We had our premiere last night, and I can honestly look the cast and crew in the eyes and say, “I gave you my best.” You know?

This may not come as a surprise to you, but if you were told the audience that night knew the effects were only 30 percent done, then people at The Weinstein Company lied to you. I went to that premiere, I remember I got my ticket. No one told me, “Look, hey, effects are 30 percent done. We’d appreciate it if you didn’t review it until the final version is out.” There was nothing like that, so if they were telling you that…

Yeah, Michael Shannon’s Civil War flashback? There was no de-aging done yet! It was so confusing.

Yes, that was confusing.

What’s a 40-year-old guy doing in the war? And immediately after that, of course, I was forced to cut them out, and it just became a free for all after that. So leading up to TIFF was a nightmare, and then everything after TIFF was an absolute nightmare. And then the world changed, and I never spoke with them again.

This is just me with a theory. But reading what you’ve said and what you’re saying now, that you were under the impression that everyone in the audience, especially the critics, knew not to review it and keep in mind it’s a work in progress? And then the fact that right after Harvey starts going after you again about re-editing, re-cutting, and all this stuff? I almost feel like you were set up, “See, they don’t like it.” I feel you got tricked.

I don’t know. I will never know.

Retroactively, I’m pissed off, because of course they should have told us it wasn’t done. I feel I was lied to, too.

I wouldn’t put anything past anyone in the old regime, but I don’t know. All I know is that I’m still standing somehow.

What was the process coming up with the title for this one? Since so few people saw the non-“Director’s Cut.”

Unfortunately, although I know I’m making a movie about technology, and unfortunately because of technology, there’s a life and a history of my movie documented on the Internet. and people might think that this version is that same version of the movie and maybe not give it a shot in the movie theaters, because it has that history. So by titling it, by adding the director’s cut, at least it separates it from its past life and gives it a shot to people who may be on the fence.

I can’t remember a situation where a movie was called “the director’s cut” on its first theatrical release. I guess in a way that’s kind of cool.

It is kind of cool, but everything that’s happened in the last two years since you saw it at TIFF, now they’ve been monumental shifts. And not only in the cut of the film and the studio collapse becoming a bank asset – which is always so uncomfortable to hear your movie not being called a movie, but an asset, a bank asset. It’s all been so surreal. So, I just feel incredibly fortunate. I can’t believe I’m actually in New York City releasing a movie that I’m really proud of and being able to talk about, all this, because I thought for a very long time I these were stories that were going to be my secret. And a movie that I made that no one ever saw. Or a movie that I made that people saw a version that wasn’t mine that would define me. So it’s nice at least to be able to talk about it and get it all out.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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