Q: Are there any Development Hell stories you’d like to share?

Rolfe Kanefsky (There’s Nothing Out ThereShattered LiesRod Steele 0014, Jacqueline Hyde, The Hazing): Where to begin?  Well, I’ll tell The Hazing story since that has a happy ending and the film was finally produced after eight years of struggle. I met a producer, Joe Wolf, who optioned a script I wrote when I was in college, “The Host,” for a dollar. He then hired a line producer to break down the script, got a top storyboard artist to draw some pictures of the creature and got letters of intent from large special effects companies to work on it. Unfortunately, they never raised the ten million dollar budget and the script is still unproduced—but I have all the material they created, so one day, we’ll see. Anyway, while I was dealing with Joe Wolf, I looked at some of the other films that he was a producer on—Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street and Hell Night to name a few. Well, Halloween and Elm Street had plenty of sequels already but nobody had ever made a Hell Night 2. I wrote a three-page treatment and pitched Mr. Wolf “Hell Night 2: The Hazing.” Nothing happened. A little while later, I met Alain Siritzky, producer of the original Emmanuelle and all of its sequels, at the American Film Market. He liked There’s Nothing Out There and a sexy comedy script I had written called Hormones...The Movie! He hired me to write and direct a series of erotic comedies for his company. 

In 1996, I wrote five features for him and directed four of them. A few more erotic sci-fi projects followed and that’s when I pitched him an idea. He was producing a series of erotic films under The Sex Files banner. I suggested, since Scream, horror was back in popular demand. He was about to make seven erotic films. I said, “Let’s do one straight horror film as well.” I suggested the old Roger Corman approach. Build a good set and shoot two different films on it, back to back. I offered to write the two scripts that could be filmed on the same set. One would be an erotic film and the other, a teen horror flick. Alain loved the idea and commissioned me to write both scripts. So, I was paid to write the first drafts. I looked back at my treatment for “Hell Night 2” and thought that would be a good project as a stand alone horror film called The Hazing. The script turned out well, although some people at Alain’s office at the time were afraid of the scene with the giant tongue. Some felt it was too tasteless and over the top. I argued that it’s the scene that people will talk about and that’s why it needs to stay. (More on that later.) The sets were built. We started casting and holding auditions. I even shot some Halloween parade footage on 35mm on Hollywood Blvd. The erotic film went into production first and, at the last minute, Alain pulled the plug on The Hazing. He had not been able to make pre-sales on the project from his foreign buyers. Scream had not yet come out in Europe and horror wasn’t that popular yet. A few people also advised him that the horror genre would soon collapse again. They were wrong. Almost ten years later and the horror genre is thriving more now than ever. So, after a year the rights to The Hazing script reverted back to me and I tried to set up the project somewhere else. 

Through a producer’s rep company, I met a man who really liked the script and wanted to produce it. I liked his energy so I gave him a free option to try to set it up. I was also talking to an employee who had just left Troma Entertainment. He was their main sales agent. He was also interested in becoming a producer and liked the script. So, I had both would-be producers working on making The Hazing. I thought if we all combined our efforts, something could happen. Someone did a budget breakdown. Someone else was contacting various foreign companies to try to shoot the film in Russia or perhaps Denmark. I flew to Cannes and met with some of these guys during the film festival. William Morris got involved and was trying to package the project at one point. Five years went by and The Hazing never got produced. It was then that I was called by Alain Siritzky to meet at his house with a man named Tom Seidman. Alain had met Tom at the American Film Market. Tom had been an Assistant Director for years in big-budget films and television. He now wanted to become a producer. He had a horror sci-fi script that he was interested in producing and was looking for some money to make it. Alain gave me the script to read before the meeting. I read it and felt that it was pretty ambitious for the budget and needed a lot of work. At Alain’s house, I met Tom for the first time and was surprised when I heard Alain say that he was about to produce The Hazing with Roger Corman at Corman’s Ireland studios in a few months. That was news to me! He asked if Tom would like to get involved in our project. Tom took a copy of the script, read it, and loved it. He was willing to put up half the money. However, Alain was busy, about to produce another series of erotic films, and couldn’t come up with his share of the funding at the moment. So, he, amazingly enough, walked away from the project without asking for anything and gave Tom the ability to pursue other funding. Tom took an option of the script from me, hired a producer’s rep, Lantern Lane, and we began to move ahead. Tom almost found a partner to put up the rest of the money but at the last minute, they got cold feet and walked away. Tom then went to some rich friends and, with their money and his father’s money, was able to raise the entire budget. Now, before this happened, I have to tell you about what is probably the worst experience I ever had with script notes and Development Hell.  Now, Tom had read The Hazing numerous times once he optioned it and we had a lot of meeting about the script. There were notes but they were minor. I liked many of his suggestions and we seemed to see eye-to-eye on the script in general. When Lantern Lane introduced us to these other potential producers, they read the script, liked it, but wanted to get together and go over everything before they would officially commit. That’s standard and was fine with me. Actually, I was excited that they were involved. They had recently produced a really good horror movie. So, one Saturday morning at 10:00 A.M., Tom, myself, and David and Brian (the producer and development guys from this other company) all met in their offices to discuss the script. Just before this meeting I was sent some of their notes. I was faxed over twenty pages of notes for The Hazing. As soon as I read them, I panicked. They were questioning everything in the script. “Why does it have to be set on Halloween? What if we change it to New Year’s Eve? Let’s change all the characters. Why are the kids in costumes? What if the house is the villain instead of the professor? Maybe the story could be more like H.P. Lovecraft?” These suggestions meant a page one rewrite. I could write the script they were suggesting but it didn’t have to have any connection to The Hazing. Now, Tom read the notes and I was shocked when he said he felt 95% of their suggestions were really good! 

So here comes the Saturday morning meeting. It begins by Brian (development guy) giving everyone, including myself, ten questions that he had put together to find out what everyone felt about the script. I sat there tired and amazed at this pop quiz on my script that asked questions like “Who is the villain of the piece? Who is the hero? What type of film is this? What is the motivation of the villain?” After seven years of working on this project, I was tempted to write “Just read the damn script!” But I answered the questions like everyone else. When we were done, we all read the answers out loud. I knew I was in trouble by the first answers to the question; “What type of film is this?” My answer was “The Hazing is a comedy/horror film just leaning over to the horror genre.” Other answers were “A teen survival thriller,” “a suspense film” and a straight “horror movie.”  Throughout the eight hour day (with one hour break for lunch) we started discussing the script at page one and managed to get to page thirteen! Two more glorious sessions like this followed and I had to fight tooth and nail on almost every element of my script. My “favorite” note was during the tongue scene. Brian and David didn’t like the tongue scene. They felt that tongues aren’t scary and had another suggestion. Instead of the guy’s tongue growing four feet long while he’s going down on his girlfriend, how about a full-sized clown doll comes to life and tries to rape the guy from behind?!  Luckily, Tom did like the tongue scene and I rewrote the scene, trimming it slightly but managed to hold on to the original concept. After all these “fun-filled” development sessions, I sat down and did a rewrite, incorporating some of the notes but holding on to the original script as much as possible. Much of the humor was toned down. The thing is, the comedy is what Tom and everyone else really liked about the script, but once they got closer to production, people got cold feet. Still, even after Scream, producers are scared when you combine different genres together. They’re afraid the horror and humor will fight each other and the film won’t be scary. Myself, still a big fan of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, An American Werewolf In London, Fright Night, Tremors and the television series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I have always embraced this challenge and know that I can pull it off. In the end, some humor stayed. Some was cut. 

Anyway, when the script was finally approved and ready to go, Brian and David walked away from the project after a party in Vegas with Tom and his money people. I’ll never know what happened in Vegas on Superbowl Sunday but we lost half the money because of it. After all that work and frustration and these producers decide not to get involved. I think it had to do with control issues. But luckily when they left the party, Tom went to his friends and managed to secure the rest of the budget. So, in the long run, things worked out. I did a few more passes on the script from Tom’s notes and finally three months later, shooting commenced. The filming was not the easiest experience I had, but I am proud of the final result and it has received some of the best reviews of my career so far. And guess what—the scene that gets the most attention and acclaim is the giant tongue scene! The sales people felt the tongue scene was the best one in the film and when the MPAA gave the film an “R” rating with no cuts, our domestic distributor applauded with delight. The tongue scene survived intact but took eight years of fighting to save it. A happy ending. Rare in this business. [Also] there was a script I wrote called “Guess Again.” It was a fun, small thriller. The producer/star optioned and then bought the script. The action was too big so I had to simplify it. Then they timed out the script and felt it was long and there was too much dialogue, so they asked me to trim it. I warned them that the script is not too long and if you cut too much out, you may have a running time problem. They disagreed and I made the cuts they demanded. Two weeks after they wrapped production, they called me with a problem. The movie was running short. They needed more scenes to lengthen the running time. They also needed more action to sell it as an action movie. I had to laugh. They eventually wound up using stock footage of a car chase and a house exploding. I then had to incorporate this new footage into my script with some additional scenes. Basically, everything they cut out was put back in through this backwards approach. But, hey, what did I know? I was only the writer.

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