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Another (White) Writer Hired To Pen 'Uptown Saturday Night' Remake Script (Scribe Carousel Continues)

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by Tambay A. Obenson
November 2, 2012 8:25 PM
26 Comments
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Uptown

It's been 10 years since this project entered development limbo, although the jam-packed schedules of Will Smith and Denzel Washington over the years, likely haven't helped either.

Some day, it'll eventually happen.

Recapping...

Years ago, Will Smith expressed interest in remaking the Sidney Poitier/Bill Cosby 70s film, Uptown Saturday Night, in what sounded like a possible all-star African American Ocean’s Eleven-style romp, starring Smith, Washington, and, potentially Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, and others who were said to be part of the conversation. 

It seemed like it would be a go about a year ago, when Warner Bros and Smith's Overbrook Entertainment brought on comedy writer Tim Dowling to rewrite the Uptown Saturday Night script (at the time, the most recent draft was penned by Cop Out’s Mark and Robb Cullen).

It looked like the project would surely happen, when David Dobkin (Who? Oh yeah, the guy who directed Shanghai Knights and Wedding Crashers) was attached to direct.

Some months later, an update stated that writer Tim Dowling (This Means War) had finished and turned in his draft of the script.

At the time, here's what Dowling revealed about his take on the story:

"Will Smith is producing it. He hired me to write it because he liked the script for 'This Mean's War.' He and Denzel Washington grew up loving the original... It’s been a fun one to write, I just turned it in. We’re all hoping it’s something [Washington] wants do... the funny thing is, Will is so funny but hasn’t done a comedy in a while and Denzel I don’t think has ever done a comedy. I think the pairing would be great... David Dobkin is attached to direct it and hopefully we’ll get that going... The best way to describe it is a 'one crazy night' movie but it's not just one night... Both of the main characters are blue collar guys, one doesn’t get a promotion, one’s business isn’t doing great, they go out for a night and get caught up in something they need to find their way out of. It’s similar in tone to 'The Hangover.' I think it will be really fun."

And finally, earlier this year, in the spring, it was announced that, apparently David Dobkin had been replaced by Adam McKay (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy), in the director's chair, and the production was expected to begin in 2013, for a 2014 release.

Skip ahead to today, to a new report from Variety that says a new writer has been hired to work on the script; yes, another one! Here's what the report states:

Warner Bros. and Overbrook are still hoping to get a remake of "Uptown Saturday Night" off the ground, as the studio has hired Jeff Shakoor to write the script for the project.

Who is Jeff Shakoor, you're probably asking? I had to look him up. His IMDBPro page lists a 2012 comedy feature he wrote and directed called Apples and Oranges, which he also stars in by the way.

The only other feature film listed on his resume is a drama called 2ND Take, which he wrote, but didn't direct, and stars Tom Everett Scott and Sarah Jones.

Heard of either of those films? Not me. But I'm sure they're great!

And Shakoor is white, by the way.

I'm sure you know where I'm going with this, because I've said before, and I'm going to say it again!

It's just baffling to me that throughout all these flip-flops of writers and directors, not one of the names mentioned is African American. Jeff Shakoor? You mean to tell me that of all the capable black writers in Hollywood, and even in outside of it (in terms of indie filmmakers), there isn't a single one who could tackle this project?

Seriously, no disrespect to Jeff Shakoor, but these jobs really could have gone to a black writer and a black director, couldn't they? If only to keep it somewhat in the spirit that the first trio of films were made - all 3 directed by Sidney Poitier; 2 written by African American playwright Richard Wesley; the other by Charles Blackwell, also African American.

There certainly are a few of them (writers and directors of African descent) who could use the work, and I think do more than a serviceable job with the project! We lament the fact that black talent (in front of and behind the camera) isn't cultivated within the Hollywood studio system, and here's a perfect opportunity for Hollywood's most powerful black figures to affect change by giving this opportunity to a talented black writer, and instead the job goes to a white writer with just 2 indie credits on his resume (films that nobody has seen). How often would a black writer with 2 *unknown* credits on their resume, get the opportunity to work on a project this high profile?

It's one of those films that would be sold mainly on its big name stars anyway, and not on who's directing or writing it, so why not give a brotha or sistah a shot?

Of course I'm assuming that Will Smith and Denzel Washington, individually or combined, are powerful enough in this industry to have some influence on who gets to write and/direct films they are involved with. 

Am I wrong about that, and this is strictly a studio decision, and neither Will nor Denzel (specifically Will, since Overbrook Entertainment, his company, is producing it), have absolutely no say here whatsoever?

Obviously, I'm not in privy to their phone conversations and meetings, so I have no idea how these decisions were reached. All I can go on is what's in front of me.

Anyway... so it goes... moving on... obviously the remake will likely diverge from the original storyline.

Stay tuned…

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26 Comments

  • CareyCarey | November 6, 2012 12:47 AMReply

    OH-ME-OH-MY...WOE-IS-WE... another white writer hired to pen another black story - DAMNIT! Listen, I've said this before, we can yik-n-yak, spit-n-spat until the cows come home, but the dope sells itself. In this case, as it relates to our classic movies and sitcom, that dope is in the form of the actors who played those iconic roles. Therefore, in my opinion, to a large degree the writer could be a blind albino b/c truth be told, the lead actors made those films successful. Look, we're talking the talent, timing and overall expertise of some of the greatest performers OF ALL TIME, in their chosen fields. We are talking the likes of DENZEL! BILL COSBY! SIDNEY POTIER!RICHARD PRYOR! They are the tippy-tip-top AAA-listers. Beneath them, some could arguably add to that list: Martin Lawrence (Martin series)! Sherman Hemsley (The Jeffersons)! Tim Moore, aka "Kingfish" (Amos & Andy)... I know, I know. Tyler Perry (Madea)! Red Foxx (Sanford & Son)! Will Smith ( The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air). Jimmy Walker (Good Times)! Richard Pryor ( Stir Crazy & Harlem Nights). Take out any one of those excellent actors from their respective films, add the best of best writer, he or she being white or black, racist, agnostic or whatever, one should quickly come to the conclution that it's the actors who carried those films. Consequently, all this moaning and groaning can't put Humpty Dumpty back together again. And I believe Will Smith knows that. "But Carey, the issue is why didn't he hire a black writer?". Well, you'll have to ask Will that question. Personally, I don't care. I hope the re-make never sees the light of day.

  • ALM | November 5, 2012 10:03 PMReply

    Sounds like Denzel is not confirmed for the project. If so, then he can't share in the blame here for hiring. At least Denzel reached out to others in "Antoine Fischer" and "The Great Debaters". Will is another story...... By the way, didn't "This Means War" flop like a big kid landing in the pool in July? Why duplicate a flop? This is another piece of proof behind the conversation I keep having on this site regarding certain people in Hollywood getting multiple chances to get it right. One of the writers on 'The Bernie Mac" show won a Peabody award. Will couldn't have called that brother? I would have paired him with some of the people who worked on "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" to get that quirky, edgy comedy. The writing cast can be diverse (black, white, hispanic, and asian), but I definitely believe that some African Americans should be on the key writing staff.

  • Charles Judson | November 5, 2012 10:29 PM

    THIS MEANS WAR pulled in $157 million worldwide on a budget of $65 million. It was shy of making it's budget back domestically. Worldwide it did just fine.

  • Aaron | November 5, 2012 11:21 AMReply

    Here's a thought, get the writer that wrote the Ocean's (11,12,13) series w/any of the several black film directors in the Industry. To me it's about opportunity, not race. How will be the next generation of filmmakers, actors and writers in black Hollywood? Denzel and Will will not be around forever. Just look at how many black initiated films you see per year (minus Tyler Perry's one or two). Hollywood give white unknowns the power to try and fail constantly, but how can they fear a crossover hit like "Uptown Saturday Night?" But most of it is on Will, he has the power to bring on who he wants. And if he want these guys, then fine. It just makes a bit harder to break in.

  • ALM | November 5, 2012 10:05 PM

    @ Aaron: See, I've made that point on this site multiple times. Certain people in Hollywood have TONS of flops. I'm talking actors, writers, etc., yet Hollywood keeps giving them not only chances, but HIGH PROFILE FEATURE FILM chances. People keep trying to pretend that this isn't happening, but it is.

  • Donella | November 5, 2012 11:56 AM

    This is what I appreciated about Berry Gordy (Motown) and John H. Johnson (Ebony Magazine). They trained generations of administrators, writers, producers, publishers, and entertainers in all aspects of their respective industries to be at the top of the game.

  • Richard | November 4, 2012 6:01 PMReply

    Well at the end of the day it is Will Smith's decision so I'm not sure what you're trying to insinuate in this article because at the end of the day it's hollywood's top black guy who apparently is not helping out his fellow blacks and is instead hiring a string of white writers. So don't blame or castigate the white writers when it's Will Smith's doing.

  • Don | November 4, 2012 5:58 PMReply

    What a pathetic and racist article. Ofcourse promote further racism, segregation, and affirmative action in hollywood. Who cares what race the person who wrote the script. Stop promoting affirmative action it doesn't belong in hollywood, in fact it doesn't belong anywhere.

  • Marten's mom | November 3, 2012 7:01 PMReply

    A real approach to racism is to not count the colour of a man's skin. Hollywood is a lot of work - spec scripts, meetings, rewrites, meetings, connections, meetings, good representation, and more meetings. If this guy did the work and was accepted,who are You to judge him based on his race???

  • Donella | November 6, 2012 5:10 PM

    I agree. Paul Mooney for edge and a collaborator to smooth out the rest.

  • Charles Judson | November 5, 2012 10:50 PM

    Paul Mooney does transgressive comedy. Not sure he's the best choice to write a comedy that's supposed to be a Black Bromance. He would be perfect to punch up a script to give it some edge and possibly avoid having the script devolve into (NOT, BUT JUST LIKE) THE HANGOVER WITH BLACK PEOPLE. At this point I would suggest a radical approach. Expand the premise and the size of the main cast a bit and look to someone like Donald Glover to come in and write the script and give himself a part. The dynamic of three different generations could bring some new angles.

  • Donella | November 5, 2012 11:53 AM

    Paul Mooney! Maybe a collaboration with John Ridley.

  • JMac | November 3, 2012 10:24 PM

    The best approach to racism is letting someone who's qualified get a shot and not just pick some unknown, untested white guy to write a script starring the only black male A-listers in Hollywood. They (Will and Denzel) deserve better and so does their audience. There are several experienced, successful black comedy screenwriters out there and plenty of unknown ones - if that's what they're really looking for. Heck they could get Paul Mooney and Dick Gregory on the cheap if they wanted to. Why pick a white nobody over a black somebody (if there's no backstage deal in effect)? Racism in action right there.

  • Donella | November 3, 2012 5:27 PMReply

    "I'm going to say it again!" Say it one more time!!!

  • WriteChick | November 3, 2012 1:34 PMReply

    FYI...Writer Don Scott, who is African American, was on the original writers of the remake script. He also did a draft of This Means War when Will Smith was attached.

  • Stacie | November 3, 2012 8:51 AMReply

    What about the guy who wrote Black Dynamite? That movie was funny. Also, the movie Somebodies was really funny, that writer could use the work. How about Aaron McGruder, if he's willing? They might be afraid of him. The original writer, Richard Wesley, is still around. Eric Monte is still around too, even though he's still black balled. There are plenty of black comedy and sitcom writers who would love the opportunity. And Will Smith has the power, he just doesn't want to exercise it.

  • cape-able | November 3, 2012 5:53 AMReply

    Someone please list all the capable Black writers below? (with relevant experience) Thank you.

  • Nadia | November 3, 2012 9:33 AM

    Before this post, if you'd have asked to list all the capable white writers (with relevant experience) I doubt that Jeff Shakoor's name would be mentioned by any readers on this site or any of the mainstream sites. Or Tim Dowling. Or David Dobkin. A better question to ask would be: are there any black writers who come from the same pool of writers as a Jeff Shakoor, or Tim Dowling, names that most folks wouldn't know about? If the answer is yes, why aren't they getting these opportunities? If the answer is no, why is that and what can be done to change that? I fail to believe that in the 10 years since this project began, there hasn't been a single veteran black writer or a young up and comer who's shown promise, that could've been hired to work on the script. From John Ridley who's written both comedy and drama successfully for the big screen, to Nelson George, to Keenen Ivory Wayans on the veteran side to all the writers who've written and are still writing (young and old) for successful mainstream TV shows. Heck before David Mills died 2 years ago, he could've probably put a nice spin on the script. Scott Sanders who wrote the Black Dynamite movie, Aaron McGruder. Or give it to a black woman writer. Off the top of my head, Katori Hall has shown a knack for comedy and drama, and even though she's written primarily for the stage, she has a feature film script that was workshopped at the Sundance screenwriters and directors labs last year. She's a hot writer right now. There are several black women (and men) writers writing for TV right now. Lastly, cultivating talent is very important. White directors and producers do it all he time in Hollywood. If Shonda Rhimes can give Issa Rae a shot, Will Smith can do the same for an up and comer with promise. Shit, check with the Organization Of Black Screenwriters, or for the many years that the Bill and Camille Cosby writing program existed, many black writers came out of that program. S&A constantly highlights black writers whose scripts are selected and workshopped in all these high profile industry labs. If they're willing to take a chance on the writer who wrote Cop Out, a movie that was panned, and didn't do that we'll at the box office, or on Jeff Shakoor, who, despite what Charles said below, is still, for all intents and purposes, an unproven talent, why can't they take a similar chance with a black writer?

  • that dude | November 3, 2012 4:43 AMReply

    I wonder if their inability to develop a decent script and the lack of black involvement have anything to do with one another...nah, that can't be it!

  • Ava | November 3, 2012 9:37 PM

    LOL. When the This Mean War guy was replaced, I was definitely NOT shocked.

  • JMac | November 2, 2012 10:41 PMReply

    Maybe they're forced to intentionally run through no-name white screenwriters before a black one can get on board. Otherwise it makes no sense, esp with this newest one.

  • Charles Judson | November 2, 2012 10:38 PMReply

    Was curious myself about the credits. And I stumbled on this: http://www.coronetwriterslab.com/ He only has two produced credits on IMDB, but it looks like he's had a few other scripts optioned. He's also been part of a writers lab that has alums that have gone onto BREAKING BAD and to write on projects for folks like Clive Barker and Gore Verbinski. UPTOWN is one of the few projects I also believe should be produced more in line with the original and I would like to see more Black writers, directors and producers on it. However, I'm wondering if this doesn't further highlight the critical need for strong, rigorous and targeted labs? This circles back to my concern that on the whole we collectively talk about how to get folks working more than we do on how do we launch careers and develop writers. It's two different mindsets and approaches. I'm wondering how many writers labs and groups for Black writers are around the country? How many of them are conduits to other things? How many of them are structured to lead to an outcome. To add further context, here's more I found on the Coronet Writers Lab: "Since the Lab began, over 30 plays have been produced at theaters across the country, including Pasadena Playhouse, Berkshire Theatre Fest, and Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago. Over a dozen screenplays have been optioned by producers and production companies; four films have been produced; two TV movies shot and broadcast." http://www.scriptmag.com/features/writers-groups-the-coronet-writers-lab

  • Darnell | November 5, 2012 12:50 AM

    "I always have a small ironic and bitter laugh when I see so many lament over the lack of black sitcoms because a large majority of those we consider to be ~classics~were produced, created, directed, and/or written by white TV execs" ~Gigi Young and "Now step away from the computer and get out and join a group! The Coronet Writers Lab is a dynamite group and may be the one you've been looking for! But even if it isn't, get out there and make things happen for yourself!" moderator, T. Jay O'Brien, at (310) 487-3758.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | November 2, 2012 9:30 PMReply

    This... Part II.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | November 2, 2012 9:29 PMReply

    This...

  • ezduzit | November 2, 2012 9:08 PMReply

    Of course...Par for the course with Overbrook.

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