Now that “Fifty Shades of Grey” has become an international box office phenomenon, author E.L. James is
seeking more control over the sequel by writing the script herself.
Universal Pictures, which had been resistant to the idea, is currently
discussing the potential move for “Fifty Shades Darker” with James, who
wrote the best-selling erotic trilogy about Christian Grey and Anastasia
Steele, Variety has learned.
Given the success of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which has so far grossed
more than $300 million worldwide, the next logical step would be for
the studio to announce the greenlight to its sequel, “Fifty Shades
According to insiders, the delay in the production of “Fifty Shades
Darker” is related to Universal execs and James still arguing over
details. Unlike most successful franchises, which aim to retain the team
behind the first film, it appears that “Fifty Shades” will undergo a
dramatic creative reshuffling in the weeks to come. Sources close to the
project don’t expect director Sam Taylor-Johnson or screenwriter Kelly Marcel to be back for the second installment, despite reps for the studio saying no official decisions have been made.
“The studio had always intended to sit down with the author after the
film opened and discuss next steps and that has not yet happened,” said
a Universal spokesman.
If James does write the screenplay for “Fifty Shades Darker,” it
could mean a later release date for the sequel. James has never written a
film before, and the studio may need to factor in extra time for
revisions. But as in the case of Gillian Flynn, who wrote both the book
and screenplay for “Gone Girl,” the project could also benefit from an
author adapting her own characters.
Because of this uncertainty, production on “Fifty Shades Darker”
likely won’t get underway until the first quarter of 2016. That would
mean the sequel wouldn’t arrive until late 2016 or the first quarter of
2017. Without a shooting script or start date, having the movie ready
for next year’s Valentine’s Day is highly unlikely.
It’s rare in showbiz for an author to exercise the kind of oversight
that James has had over the bigscreen journey of “Fifty Shades.” James
didn’t peddle the movie rights until her books were already a worldwide
phenomenon, and every studio in town wanted to adapt the trilogy, which
gave her considerable bargaining power. As a result, she was able to
negotiate a deal with Universal and Focus Features that gave her control
over how Christian and Anastasia would appear in the film. Not only
does she exercise casting approval — she first met Jamie Dornan,
who plays Christian, at his audition in Los Angeles (and was a fan of
his work on the BBC TV series “The Fall”) — she’s also credited as a producer on the first movie.
When J.K. Rowling sold her “Harry Potter” books to Warner Bros., she
weighed in on a few creative decisions — asking that the cast would be
made up of British actors, for example. But then she allowed the
filmmakers to take liberties with her stories. The film’s screenwriter
Steve Kloves has said Rowling was hands-off. The same went for Stephenie
Meyer, author of the “Twilight” franchise, which inspired “50 Shades.”
On the other hand, James was very involved in all aspects of the
“Fifty Shades” film, as she attended creative meetings to make sure that
the film didn’t veer too far from her book. According to sources,
James, who has no prior film experience, would at times hold up the
creative process by offering input that wasn’t in line with the
filmmakers’ vision. But given James’ contract with Universal, the
director and other producers on the film couldn’t go around her.
James and director Taylor-Johnson constantly fought on set and in the
editing room on details surrounding the first movie. “We disagreed a
lot,” Taylor-Johnson told Variety in January. “She created
these characters and the story. I was trying to create a film experience
that would honor the book but at the same time give us a fresh
perspective. That was difficult for her. We’d battle things out. I think
you could say we crossed every scenario through our battles.”
While it’s not clear why Taylor-Johnson wouldn’t be back for the
sequel, it’s likely to both sides aren’t eager to rehash similar
arguments. James and Marcel worked on the first draft of “Fifty Shades
of Grey” at the author’s London home. But once the studio asked for
revisions to tone down the sexual content, Marcel and James had a
falling out, according to sources. Patrick Marber was brought in for the
rewrites. (Marcel, who declined to be interviewed, hasn’t been part of
the “Fifty Shades” press tour.)
In the meantime, production uncertainty has also made scheduling difficult for stars Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson.
The two actors are now hot casting commodities. But since the actors
don’t know when they’ll need to disrobe for the next “Fifty Shades,”
they haven’t been able to commit to playing other characters in the near