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

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by Tambay A. Obenson
November 26, 2013 11:05 AM
14 Comments
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It's been a decade since this project entered development limbo, although the jam-packed schedules of stars Will Smith and Denzel Washington over the years, likely haven't helped either.

Some day, it'll eventually happen.

First, a quick recap...

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 MurphyMartin Lawrence, and others who were said to be part of the conversation. 

It seemed like it would be a go about 2 years 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."

Early last 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 the fall, almost exactly a year ago, to a then new report that announced a new writer had been hired to work on the script; Yes, another one! Warner Bros. and Overbrook 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!

Skip ahead yet again to yesterday's revelation by Variety that, once again, a new writer has been hired to rewrite the screenplay, which, at this point, given how many hands have touched it, doesn't bode well for the project, if similar occurrences in film history are any indication.

Warner Bros. has hired Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) to do a rewrite on the script. 

Adam McKay is still on board to direct, with Warner Bros. aiming for a 2014 shoot date, with Will Smith and Denzel Washington attached to star.

And yes, like every past writer who's worked on this project, Nicholas Stoller is white. I can only wonder if a black writer had been assigned to the job, if this many rewrites by this many writers would've been necessary. I wonder why the script has been passed around so much. Have Will and Denzel not been happy with the previous drafts by every writer who's worked on the script? And if so, why not? Are there elements of racial specificity (given the original film that the remake will be based on) that all these white writers are maybe not quite *equipped* to grasp and thus incorporate into their drafts of the script, that maybe a fellow competent black writer would? Or is this a Warner Bros. problem? 

Questions... questions... questions... 

As I've said before, and will continue to say, no matter what, it's just baffling to me that throughout all these flip-flops of writers and directors over the years, not one of the names mentioned has been African American. At least, those that have been made public.

No disrespect to Mark and Robb Cullen, Tim Dowling, David Dobkin, Adam McKay, Jeff Shakoor, and Nicholas Stoller, but both the writing and directing jobs here really could go 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 were 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 who I think could do more than a serviceable job with the project! John Ridley is having a banner year! Put him on the job! 

We lament the fact that black talent (in front of and behind the camera) isn't being 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 work on a project this high profile, to a talented black writer - especially a promising up-and-comer like a Michael Starrbury for example. That's how you cultivate talent.

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.

Stay tuned…

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14 Comments

  • Tariq Wills | December 14, 2013 12:11 PMReply

    I would love to see either John Singleton, Ernest Dickerson or Malcolm D. Lee take on the directing with a script by Aaron Mcgruder

  • Donella | November 27, 2013 9:24 PMReply

    I agree that this looks like a job for John Ridley.

    Strange.

    Ridley's worked on the Fresh Prince and Martin, so Will Smith is aware of him. With Undercover Brother, he's proven his comedic ability to anyone who didn't know.

    Ridley's the one!

  • CareyCarey | November 28, 2013 12:59 AM

    Donella (love that name), my lady could care less about the names of writers or directors, there names (whomever they may be) is not what moves her decision on what movies she will or will not watch (Tyler Perry being an exception to that rule). HOWEVER... her 2 most favorite series of all time are Martin and The Fresh Prince. She owns every episode. Needless to say, if she had a vote, she'd vote for the black man, just like you - John Ridley!

    Now this may sound strange or weird to some, but how would Spike Lee fit? Hey, he has worked with Denzel and if you've noticed, some of Lee's stuff has a comedic flare. Think "School Daze", Do The Right Thing and Bamboozled, each had scenes that required on point comedic timing. Yep, Spike could be just the black man we're looking for - you think?

  • Eric D | November 27, 2013 1:13 PMReply

    The fact of the matter remains that despite this being a 'banner' year for black film, too often studios still tend to rely on their same old stable of homogenous (white) screenwriters even when the subject matter and/or the talent of the films are black. There are a slew of 'black' films coming up on which Caucasian writers have been assigned the tell 'our' stories. Such as: THINK LIKE A MAN TOO (same writers as the first), RIDE ALONG, ABOUT LAST NIGHT, ANNIE, GET ON UP (the James Brown story from the director of The Help which also had a white writers) and several others. Sadly this fact still flies under the radar because in the feature film world we only seem to pay attention to the black directors who are working and not so much to the writers who are behind the scenes creating supposedly authentic African-American images.

  • urbanauteur | November 27, 2013 5:12 PM

    its called "Post Racial Necromancy"...

  • Alias | November 27, 2013 12:57 PMReply

    @CC "TLAM" and "The Best Man," aren't remakes. At the very least get your facts right before you go spewing your nonsensical opinion.

  • CC | November 27, 2013 2:51 PM

    Okay Alias, you got me, they're not remakes. So lets start over... will this make 100 million?

    Well, let's first take a look at Alias's details. She wants it known that TLAM II and "The Best Man II" are sequels, not remakes, therefore we can't use them to gage the black audience's spending trends. Okay, lets continue... hmmm Sparkle? It flopped because...

  • CC | November 26, 2013 10:24 PMReply

    Okay... the big question... will this make 100 million? History says "NOT IN A THOUSAND YEARS". Well, let's take a look at the details.

    It's a black film. UT OH, we've just dropped a few white viewers. But wait, is it still a black movie if the director and writers are white? Hmmm... maybe this is where Will Smith is hedging his bet?

    Okay, now, how has remakes faired at the box office? Hmmm... Sparkle? Hmmm.... The Best Man? Hmmm, hmmm, hmmm... Think Like A Man II? I know, TLAM is still in the can but I see a detail that could answer a few questions. First, Sparkle flopped because it had a white director, didn't it? Opps, I'm be bit factious but the director might have well been white. He-knew-not-what-he-do, did he? Then again, some of the "fault" rests with the cast, doesn't it? Let's just say they were not seasoned enough to turn heads. But, in this proposed remake of Uptown Saturday Night, the big boys are in town. So 100 million might be reachable, right?

    But dangnabbit, there's still that nagging issue of "Why white folks don't like black movies", isn't there? I don't know but maybe Tambay will walk out on another thin limb and make a prediction on the fate of this film and Think Like A Man II?

  • Laura | November 26, 2013 5:16 PMReply

    Why? Some things should not be tinkered with in such a way.

  • BANTA | November 26, 2013 4:23 PMReply

    THIS DESERVES REPEATING!!!!!! "No disrespect to Mark and Robb Cullen, Tim Dowling, David Dobkin, Adam McKay, Jeff Shakoor, and Nicholas Stoller, but both the writing and directing jobs here really could go to a black writer and a black director, couldn't they?" Damn shame. Will Smith should be ashamed.

  • Miles Ellison | November 26, 2013 3:54 PMReply

    There's outrage now, but once the movie is in theaters, people will flock to see it. Even if it's crap, which it probably will be. That's where we are now. Most people could care less about this issue. All it takes Will Smith and Denzel Washington on the marquee to draw the crowds.

  • Dr. Tongue's 3-D House of Stewardesses | November 26, 2013 4:27 PM

    There isn't even outrage. Just an eyebrow-raising "Oh really". The real issue for Will is: "How can I make this project for white people?" That is his main priority with any movie he does. This is the inherent problem with re-making this movie: it was made by us, for us. If you change that (which Will will do) you remove the point of the whole piece. I would kindly suggest Will find other material to whitewash.

  • Alana Smithee | November 26, 2013 3:41 PMReply

    Will isn't going to ever work with a black director. At all. Ever. And he'll work with a black director before he works with an indie black director.

  • urbanauteur | November 26, 2013 3:35 PMReply

    Another prime example on how Cardboard Negroes acquiesce, f`@##%`em! HOLLYWHITE is crumbling..give it 5 years quoting,Sir George and Blockbuster Steve.

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