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The Lost, Unmade & Abandoned Projects Of Director David Gordon Green

Features
by Rodrigo Perez
April 14, 2014 1:43 PM
6 Comments
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"I have a sense of humor. I'm not always this lyrical, slow-moving, Southern crybaby." If the hallmark of the film auteur is cultivating and identifying a unique style, former indie wunderkind David Gordon Green has been systematically tearing down his signature status for a few years now.

Initially known for his Terrence Malick-like and atmospheric coming-of-age tales set in the South, Green quickly switched gears, moving to a succession of studio comedies (“Pineapple Express,” “Your Highness,” “The Sitter”). While the move toward broad (though absurdist) comedy baffled many, it made a lot of sense if you were paying attention to his early goals. Despite being known for films like "George Washington" and "All The Real Girls," Green had been talking up his eclectic taste and his burning desire to tackle disparate genres for years.

Suffering from creative A.D.D. and thirsty for different experiences, the young filmmaker put his money where his mouth was and began tackling different genres with ardent zeal. First came 2004's "Undertow," a '70s-like gothic fairy tale that melded tones of horror, suspense and his impressionistic meanderings (produced by Terrence Malick to boot, Green described it as “Goonies” meets “Deliverance”). He then began adapting novels with furious aplomb which begat the drama, "Snow Angels." Green's vocal desire to tackle comedy, a genre he'd been hot to try on forever (see the very subtle comedy of the indie heartbreak film, "All The Real Girls" and the lighter moments in ‘Angels’) finally found him room within the Judd Apatow clique and his first summer comedy blockbuster, the stoner action flick, "Pineapple Express." 'Express' and the subsequent comedies flew him dangerously close to the sun of mainstream appeal and acceptance, but again before you could pigeonhole him, he was off doing small, unannounced indie “Prince Avalanche” (which in his genre-defying way is part comedy bromance and part contemplative meditation on friendship and manhood).

When not directing, Green became a writing gun for hire over the years and the uber-prolific filmmaker churned out a ton of scripts in the early aughts, many of which never came to pass. "My hope is that I can dabble in all genres because, let's face it, I'm a freakin' movie geek and like a lot of different kind of movies," he told IFC in 2008. And dabble he has. With “Joe,” starring Nicolas Cage, his dark gritty drama hitting theaters over the weekend (not without its elements of comedy either), we thought we’d take a look at the lost, still unmade and in many cases potentially abandoned film projects of filmmaker David Gordon Green.

Goat
Adapted by Green from the Brad Land memoir about fraternity hazing, the project was at one point in pre-production with Emile Hirsch attached to star, but it fell on the back burner. "I play Brad Land. I'm a junior pledging to be in a fraternity. You'll see the inside world of it," Hirsch told MTV in 2005. Rumor had Mike Nichols tackling the project at one point, but it seems like its moment has past. From these conversations, Green would eventually cast Hirsch in 2013’s “Prince Avalanche.”

The Untitled Motorcross Movie
A coming-of-age film about James "Bubba" Stewart, a teen "who is to motocross racing what Tiger Woods is to golf," was written by Green for Tom Cruise's Cruise/Wagner Productions while the “Top Gun” star had his deal at Paramount. And the film was revving up pre-production in fall 2005, but after the whole Sumner Redstone Cruise/Paramount imbroglio the following year, the project was kicked over to Sam Jones, the director behind the Wilco documentary,"I Am Trying To Break Your Heart."

Confederacy of Dunces
Green campaigned hard for the film, knocking down the doors of producer Steven Soderbergh who wrote a draft of the screenplay with Scott Kramer in 2002, but the project became logjammed. "There were too many cooks involved, too many producers, the egos of a lot of people," Green told MTV in 2004 of the problems that unraveled the ‘Dunces’ production. "It had a lot of financial baggage [that] was propelling the budget to a place where you would have to make compromises in casting and the narrative by the time you started paying off all these jackasses." Will Ferrell, Mos Def and Drew Barrymore were attached at one point, but don't look for this one to start up anytime soon, if ever. "It was a circumstance where every move needed to be approved and calculated and re-approved and baggage kept getting bigger and bigger. I don't think anyone can make it until someone gets paid off or dies," he said (there was massive development hell on this one with Soderbergh and Kramer going as far as suing producer Scott Rudin when he tried to go out on his own with the project and it changed hands several times going from New Line to Paramount to Miramax and Disney—where there was internal friction—and eventually back to Paramount). They’ve tried to make it since, with one recent iteration with Zach Galifianakis, but it’s seemingly gotten nowhere for the same reasons.

“Nerd Camp”
The writer/director penned a "stoner-counselor-at-nerd-camp comedy" for Seann William Scott. "I'm writing, a high-concept studio comedy," Green told Indiewire in April 2006. The premise was dead-simple. "It's about a summer camp for geniuses." It's possible that this script, which was being written for Universal, made the rounds before Judd Apatow had decided on a "Pineapple Express" director, and when the two met on the set of "Knocked Up," the mayor of comedy may have likely anointed his man. Whatever happened to this project? "They took it away from me and Danny [McBride] before anybody knew who we were and had some other guy write it," Green told us in a 2011 interview.

The Precious Few
A very, "Smokey And The Bandit"-like pic, the demolition derby movie was written with friend and 'Real Girl' actor Danny McBride and was set to re-team the director with his longtime friend Paul Schneider (star of "All The Real Girls"). "Eventually it's going to cost a lot of money because I've got a lot of cars to wreck," Green told Moviechicks in the fall of 2004. Would it ever get made? “I would love to [make it]," Green told us in 2011. "We've been around for a couple years trying to get it financed. Yeah that would be our flagship film if we can find a great international financier. I wrote it with my buddy when I was all drugged up on painkillers after having jaw surgery and somehow, in six days, we cranked out something we were really proud of." Maybe one day…

John Grisham's "Innocent Man"
Part of his now-ancient deal with the now-shuttered Warner Independent to pick up "Snow Angels," was agreeing to write and direct a drama based on John Grisham's non-fiction book “The Innocent Man.” The book tells the true story of Ron Williamson, a man wrongly convicted of murder who spent more than 10 years on death row in Oklahoma. But that project was shuttered because of "legal problems," according to Green.

Freaks of the Heartland
In 2008, Overture Films tapped Green to direct the horror thriller "Freaks of the Heartland," a Dark Horse graphic novel written by Steve Niles, written by freshman screenwriters Peter Sattler and Geoff Davey. ‘Freaks’ was a series about the horrible secret of a rural Middle American town involving a teenager’s attempts to protect his "monster" of a 6-year-old younger brother and other "freaks" from their parents' worst instincts. It never came to pass, either. "I want to do it as an animated movie now," he said around the time of "The Sitter." "I've been talking to the writer and illustrator of the comic book." Who knows what happened there. At any rate, Green scratched his animation with the MTV comedy “Good Vibes," which wound up getting canceled rather quickly.

“The Secret Life of Bees”
He described his adaptation of the 2004 NY Times best-seller as a period piece similar in tone to "To Kill a Mockingbird." Green explained ‘Bees’ as a much-needed breath of fresh air to MTV in 2004. "It's a chick flick," he said, "Which for me [would be] interesting because ['Undertow'] was so masculine and heavy and full of dudes. It might be nice to hang out with some ladies and have some fine china." Producers thought otherwise and while Dakota Fanning was touted as his lead circa 2004/05 when he wrote the screenplay, the movie was made without him in 2008. 

“Fat Albert”
"I've had two goals as far as movies are concerned forever that I can remember. One of them was to [make] 'Dunces,' and [then] more than anything in the whole world, I really wanna do 'Fat Albert,' " he admitted to MTV in the early aughts. "I got really depressed because they were about to go into production on 'Fat Albert' a year ago with Forrest Whitaker directing, so I was super pissed." Green didn't get the project and it was made in 2004 much to his chagrin.

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6 Comments

  • nope | April 14, 2014 5:17 PMReply

    Wow, haha, Mike Nichols was never attached to Goat. It was JEFF Nichols -- you know, DGG's buddy, and fellow NC School of the Arts alum? Makes a little more sense, that.

  • Stephen B | April 19, 2014 4:54 PM

    Yeah, it was either going to be Jeff Nichols' follow up to Shotgun Stories or his debut, I can't quite remember, but DGG was going to produce.

  • yer | April 14, 2014 4:49 PMReply

    This guy could have been the next Terrence Malick and instead he blew it. For what exactly? I'll never understand it.

  • Washington | April 15, 2014 4:22 AM

    So he could make the movies he wants instead of the movies you want?

  • sagth | April 14, 2014 1:51 PMReply

    Honestly, who cares?

    From a commercial standpoint, almost all his movies are flops/failures: Your Highness, The Sitter, Prince Avalanche all pretty much DOA, as was Joe this weekend. His early indie movies also weren't commercial hits but gained some critical praise - but hasn't that worn off by now after a string of rushed, unsuccessful meandering garbage? At this point, who is getting excited about his future or potential projects?

  • Eric | April 14, 2014 1:59 PM

    I care. Other than The Sitter, I find all his films brilliant. The only reason I care if they make money is so he can continue to make the films he wants.

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