EDITORIALS

The Shazam Movie is Dead - John August Explains Why

by
January 6, 2009
Source: John August's Blog

Captain Marvel

Oh no, the Shazam movie is dead! John August, one of Hollywood's most accessible screenwriters, published a lengthy blog article yesterday explaining how the writer's strike, miscommunication with various studio execs, and other unfortunate occurrences over the last few years eventually killed the movie. We have been following this Shazam project for a very long time, including publishing some solid updates from director Peter Segal, who has been attached as the director nearly as long as John August. But as August now says, "I don't think it's on the studio's radar at all. It may come back in another incarnation, with another writer, but I can say with considerable certainty that it won't be the version I developed."

August explains that the first draft he wrote was described as "a comedy with a lot of action. It mostly centers on Billy Batson getting and learning how to use his powers, and discovering what happened to his parents that left him an orphan. One of the appeals of the project is that Billy is a comic book hero who actually reads comic books. Black Adam ultimately becomes the adversary, but he works much like Voldemort in the Harry Potter movies — a dark force to battle at the end, not a constant presence throughout. I wrote the draft I had pitched, and was very happy with how it turned out." At the time this first draft was finished, this was still a New Line Cinema project (before they were dead, too).

After turning it and getting notes from New Line execs and producers, the writer's strike hit, and August remained in the dark for 100 days. When the strike was over, Shazam had become a Warner Brothers movie. And that's where things really started to fall apart. "When we turned the new draft in to the studio, we got a reaction that made me wonder if anyone at Warners had actually read previous drafts or the associated notes. The studio felt the movie played too young. They wanted edgier. They wanted Billy to be older. They wanted Black Adam to appear much earlier." August started a bit of a fight with them, trying to setup calls to discuss the notes, but didn't get anywhere. He blames two of Warner Brothers' big movies.

In retrospect, I can point to two summer Warner Bros. movies that I believe defined the real issue at hand: Speed Racer and The Dark Knight. The first flopped; the second triumphed. Given only those two examples, one can understand why a studio might wish for their movies to be more like the latter. But to do so ignores the success of Iron Man, which spent most of its running time as a comedic origin story, and the even more pertinent example of WB's own Harry Potter series. I tried to make this case, to no avail.

So he turned in one more draft and headed to France to tour Paris and Marseille with other screenwriters. August explains that the draft he turned in at that point had changed dramatically. "This wasn't 'Big, with super powers' anymore. It was Black Adam versus Captain Marvel, with a considerable push into dark territory and liminal badlands like Nanda Parbat. It wasn't the action-comedy I'd signed on to write, but it was a movie I could envision getting made." When he returned from France, the project was dead. "There were dozens of meetings and phone calls in which I had no participation. As a reader, you should certainly consider the possibility that I wrote shitty scripts they simply didn't want to make."

Admittedly, I'm not a Shazam fan, but after writing about the project for so long, I was very excited to see it come together. It felt like the perfect movie for Peter Segal to direct and the fans of the comic were excited to see it on the big screen as well. I thank John August for giving us this rare inside look at what happened with this project. If only more screenwriters and directors were this open and accessible, Hollywood would be a much different place. And as for Shazam, I hope one day it comes back from the dead. In fact, as far as we know, Warner Brothers could've hired a new screenwriter by now. Maybe Peter Segal is still directing it, even though it may take some extra time to come together. RIP Billy Batson!

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  • Josh
    ohhhhh damn!
  • Vegavega Balrog
    Poor Captain Marvel just can't catch a break.
  • Fuelbot
    Gil Kenan should make this as a performance capture movie. I think it would work extremely for that medium and I think Gil has a great way of balancing the darker stuff with the more light-hearted elements.
  • THERBLIG
    This sucks! WTF!!!
  • KyB
    "Like Voldemort in Harry Potter, not a constant presence but a dark force to be battled at the end." Thats not true! Did he read the books? Voldy's threat is everywhere!
  • Daas
    Great! This means that leaves The Rock free to play Namor the Sub-Mariner in a Marvel movie (maybe Avengers?) rather than him playing Black Adam in a likely flop in "Shazam." The Rock = Namor
  • Aravena
    I'm sure after Watchmen WB will stick with the comic kick. It's very hard to make a good one and sometimes fans rather not see a dream trashed such as AVP, Speed Racer, and the upcoming DBZ movie. Who knows but I think it will come back. Shazam is too big to just sit in the closet.
  • Ajax
    Personally, I think Shazam is a bit too cheesy to be a credible super-hero film. May this good franchise rest in peace.
  • Daniel
    It's a shame that so many comic book movies that have potential must be measured against The Dark Knight; Shazam could have won an audience on it's own without having to be dark and gritty.
  • Darunia
    The shitty things about successes like TDK is how they shape the industry. Because the retards don't get it, it's not the darkness factor that made TDK the hit it was. It's because it was great, and at the same time, different from other offerings. Spawning a bunch of TDK wannabes from now on, like studios tried and still try i guess with CGied shitty movies, won't bring you the same success, no matter how much you think it will.
  • SS
    Big Meets Super Hero would have been a great idea. Warner has lost the plot on this one. Not every movie can be as dark as TDK. I'm not even sure Nolan wants a third Batman movie to be as dark as TDK!
  • LORD POON
    Dear god DC sucks fucking balls....they just cant seem to get their heads out of their ass when it comes to getting some movies out....all they have is the Nolan/Bale Batman franchise....Superman Returns blew big dong, Watchmen is in legal hell, Shazam is dead in the water....no real spark when it comes to any other movies like Wonder Woman, or Flash...yeah Marvel owns , at least they can release films, some good , some bad but it gets done !!! NUFF SAID
  • Voice Of Reason
    No big loss. Seeing how much Hollywood has been pumping out comic-book movies, this genre will be passé/dead in the water in 15 years if—like Shazam—they turn every comic into a movie. This'd be a throw-away movie despite best intentions, and i hardly think the fan base or the innocent curiosity is there with SHAZAM enough to have made the movie worthwhile.
  • Jackie
    What is ironic is the first script turned in, by William Goldman, was said to be the greatest superhero script ever written, yet the powers that be rejected it for being TOO SERIOUS AND TOO DARK!!! Now they want serious and dark? Then just revive the Goldman draft, and they can still get the movie made by 2010...or 2012 if they want to get a new director.
  • zubzwank
    DC has been trying for decades to re-start the heart of the original Captain Marvel concept. Some great comic creators- Roy Thomas, Jerry Ordway, Alex Ross--have tried with limited "success." Since Marvel made their heroes more like real people in the 60's, an on-going "whimsical" story line is a hard sell. The advent of "dark" superheroes (Watchmen, Spawn/Image, Frank Miller's and Tim Burton's Batmans (Batmen?)) made it much harder. Nobody seems to know how to get CM flying again. Maybe a movie would work better. I hope superhero movies survive past the current obsession with "dark" heroes and story lines, which, if continued unabated, will drive them into the ground. "Dark" works for some, not for all. Spider-man is not "dark", The Fantastic Four are not "dark." Flash is not "dark." Green Lantern is not dark, but some darkness in the story--like weird villains seeing the birth of the universe--could be incorporated, and he could light it, natch! If you've got to have "dark", put it in the villain, not always the hero. Not everybody who would become a superhero has to be a twisted psycho. Egotists, showoffs, thrill seekers, exhibitionists, maybe, but not psychos.
  • Klownfist
    Hell... at this point I'd be happy to have them do an animated feature of Shazam (Jeff Smith's recent run comes to mind as a perfect story to animate) and then for them to properly release the old 70's live-action show and acrtoons on DVD. That would be a step in the right direction.
  • Tony Thomas
    Why not take 2 tacts to the idea of the Capt Marvel Movie.. 1. in the format of the 40's serial merged with the Mummy series. or do it like the Power of SHAZAM! comic book series. Camp is out. Too many make fun of 'innocence'" and that was a strong point in why Billy Batson was chosen, and not Dennis the Menace or Maculey Culcin's Home alone Character. This was what made the difference in the Underworld series in DC. Captain Marvel saved others and the villain/demon couldn't get his soul because Billy's soul was pure-unlike Superman's and the majority of the others DC Characters. Many Comics had really come to give the Big Red Cheese his kudos. The Supernatural/Dark storyline could work while a sunny Superman story works for him.
  • Mike Burke
    I am amazed at the childishness of film-makers and or those in a position to make movies. Captain Marvel is about the best character to be invented next to Superman. How shortsighted can these people be? I have been waiting for a decent movie of Captain Marvel, or Shazam as some call him, since I was a kid when I started to read his comics more than sixty years ago, and here are a bunch of people with too much money and no conception of what the public really want. Grow up people. As for not knowing what people want, do not go to see Watchmen. It is a long boring waste of money, time, and talent. I am amazed that this story was accepted and actually turned into a movie. It is grossly violent to no point, it has swearing that I have never heard or expected in a hero movie, it brings in a greusomely demented child-killer which is absolutely pointless. Everyone is constantly bitching about not being able to practise their super-heroing due to being banned by Nixon?? HUH?? I know that these stories are about fantasy, but not actual history twisted to suit an very unsatisfactory story to say the least? I grew up with superheros who tried to make life better for the world they found themselves in. The artists and writers of those days tried to give kids an ideal and way of life to aspire to. Today's comic writers and artists are simply saying that to be violent and cruel is the thing to be, that it's cool to be a mindless savage. You may disagree. Fine. Just look at kids and how they amuse themselves. They have computer games that teach them how to kill in all sorts scenarios. There is not one iota of humour to offset the mindless violence these so-called games. In fact I don't believe that young people today have a real sense of humour. Not humour that is just good fun. Now someone has to be seriously hurt to get a laugh and that's in real life too. You have to experience violence to know that our kids have to be educated not to be violent. Here in Ireland we have had enough of murders and violence. Look at all the shootings and stabbings that happen every minute in every city. They happen over nothing. If you look crooked at someone you could get killed. All for nothing. In my day you could maybe have a laugh with or at a stranger even at his expense, but not these days. How sad. So much has been lost. Anyone who has contact with the public, in this case publishers and movie makers, has a huge responsibility to produce entertainments that are aimed at having a good influence, on our youth especially. Otherwise they are just leaving a dreadful, irresponsible body of work, with all the negative and simply bad and evil influences that go along with that legacy.
  • Spirit Dreamer
    Captain Marvel should LIVE!!!! DC Direct had NO RIGHT to attack Shazam! Captain Marvel in the past.. Superman and Captain Marvel are differnet the only thing the near same is they are both strong as other other; at times. Captain Marvel MUST come back!!!! or DC Direct can go *********.....
  • Kelvin
    I am sorry to hear that this project is "Dead". I had always hoped that the Big Red Cheese would see the light of day on the silver screen but all the "Dark" heroes seem to generate money for the Movie execs and we all know that's what it's all about. I, myself, thought a much edgy/dark CM movie along the lines of Batman and Superman would be credible to the viewing public but after reading all the comments, something lighthearted would be better. I think the other main difference between CM and any other superhero is the fact that he is the first character that switches from a kid to an adult; from being a human being to a supernatural force blessed by the gods. How many times as a kid that we dreamed of being a superhero? This is that character and I think it would translate well if it followed this idea. I think the other thing that should be noted is that conversation in the book "Kingdom Come" where Superman states the conflict within Adult Billy Batson between his normal Human side and his inner Superhero. The fact that he encompasses both sides can be developed in so many ways and is something that was first and unique. if the execs could just stop thinking about money and think about developing/making a great film with this character, they will see and understand how important CM is to the viewing public. CMJr. can be the dark movie for the execs to sink their teeth in. Just leave out Captain Marvel Bunny....
  • zubzwank
    #19, what do you mean DC Direct (the toy manufacturing division of DC Comics) had no right to attack Shazam? First of all, Shazam is a magic word, not a name, but anyway, assuming you are speaking about CAPTAIN MARVEL, what did the toy division do? Throw action figures at him? Make a toy that had unappealing poses? CM does not have the super-senses powers (x-ray, heat, etc., vision, super-hearing) that Superman does. Strength and invulnerability are about equal, I guess. Since he gets the latter from Achilles, does that mean you can hurt him through his heel? #20, my previous comment at #15 says basically agrees with you. I would want to see at least a friendly CM, if not a slapstick or cartoon-ish one. The super-hero movie trend will be dead by the 2000-teens. Don't worry, though. It'll come round again. Go watch the Watchmen, a great "dark" hero movie. There's room for all kinds. Look at the humor in Iron Man.
  • Will Stockdale
    They had some funny sounding words like IP, ganicksel, buglump....

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