The Shazam Movie is Dead - John August Explains Why
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!