In order for a film to be made, it needs to get approval, or “the green light”, from a studio executive. The usual path to getting a movie greenlit is to have a meeting with a studio executive and pitch the film to them, and hope they say yes. However, with Hollywood being the crazy industry it is, it’s not always that straightforward.
It’s often not enough that a screenplay has been written or that reputable filmmakers or actors are involved, so sometimes unorthodox methods are required. Below are eight films that are greenlit through very peculiar or downright crazy ways.
1. Saw (James Wan, 2004)
With the seven Saw films being perhaps the biggest horror franchise of the 2000s, it is hard to fathom that once upon a time Hollywood did not see it this way. The creators of Saw, director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell, met at university in the late 1990s in Melbourne, Australia, and decided to collaborate together.
In order to get noticed, they decided to make a short film called Saw, which has the same basic premise as the feature film of two people being trapped in a room and must go through torture to escape. It was a 10 minute short ultra-cheap film that Wan and Whannell made in film school, where they maxed out their credit cards to get the film made. Needless to say, the film was very gory.
Wan and Whannell moved from Melbourne to Los Angeles to pursue their dream. Hollywood producers Mark Burg and Oren Koules from Twisted Pictures saw the short film and loved it. However, they were hesitant to greenlight the film at first because Wan, an unknown director, wanted to direct the film, and the film’s writer, Whannell, wanted to star in it.
This is something that would not normally be allowed in a Hollywood production. Wan and Whannell were eventually given a million dollars and only 18 days to make a feature length version of Saw, which made over $100 million.
2. Rocky (John G. Avildsen, 1976)
Being that today Sylvester Stallone is such a big figure in Hollywood, it is hard to imagine that back in the early and mid-1970s that he was struggling actor.
Not only did he want to act, but he also wanted his screenplay titled Rocky about a low level boxer of the same name that he wrote made into a film and for him to star in the lead role. In fact, Stallone struggled so much financially that he sold his dog to survive, mainly as his then-wife was pregnant.
During this time, Stallone auditioned for a part in another movie made by producer Irwin Winkler. Stallone did not get the part, but he spoke to Winkler about his Rocky script, which sparked Winkler’s interest. Stallone said from the beginning that he wanted to be the star, but was offered good money for the script and NOT to act in it.
Despite facing bad odds, Stallone persisted and accepted a deal to act in the lead role for a big pay cut, but would earn a percentage of the gross profit, as the studio assumed the film would not make much money. He also now had enough money to buy his dog back.
Although this was a huge risk at the time, this worked greatly in Stallone’s favour as Rocky is one of the highest grossing movies ever made, making Stallone both rich and a movie star.
3. Machete (Robert Rodriguez, 2010)
Robert Rodriguez’s films are well known for their over the top and campy violence, therefore being generally hilarious. His 2010 film Machete started out as a fake movie trailer placed among other fake trailers for Rodriguez’s and Quentin Tarantino’s double feature Grindhouse. Although Grindhouse received mixed reviews, the Machete trailer was adored and fans pleaded for it to be made as a feature film in its own right.
With the Machete trailer telling the violent and B-grade story of a crazy Mexican vigilante named Machete, named after the big knife and played by Rodriguez regular Danny Trejo, who goes around wreaking havoc against his enemies. It certainly is a fun trailer that ended up being the most successful part of Grindhouse, much to Rodriguez’s surprise. The much loved trailer is what got the feature film version of Machete greenlit.
4. This Is The End (Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogan, 2013)
In theory, the popularity of comedic films starring the likes of Seth Rogan, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride, who have all worked with each another on previous hit comedy films, would get this film instantly greenlit. While that certainly helped, it was not that straightforward.
This Is The End was originally a YouTube skit with Seth Rogan and Busta Rhymes where they would have played themselves and fight ant men, although it never got made. Instead, a short film entitled Jay and Seth Versus The Apocalypse, starring Rogan and Baruchel, was made, where they play themselves and are stuck in a house in the aftermath of the apocalypse.
The video gained popularity when Rogan’s film Knocked Up came out and made Rogan a household name. Once that happened, a feature film version was greenlit, although the film did not get made and released until a few years later.
5. Showgirls (Paul Verhoeven, 1995)
We have all had to immediately write something down on whatever piece of paper was available at the time when we had something important on our minds. What is not so common is that piece of paper being an idea for a hit movie.
Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas wrote the idea for his stripper turned Las Vegas casino dancer drama Showgirls on a cocktail napkin while on vacation in Hawaii and showed the napkin to a studio executive.
Most executives would be right to scoff at such a seemingly unprofessional act as accepting an outline for a film on a napkin. However, Eszterhas was the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood during the 1990s, so studios were more than willing to listen to him.
He was given an advance of $2 million to write the screenplay and an additional $1.7 million when the film got produced. Despite the film eventually being slammed and somewhat ruining the careers of those involved, including Eszterhas, it is not that surprising that such a film was pitched this way.
6. Snakes On A Plane (David R. Ellis, 2006)
Ever since news hit the internet that a B-grade action film titled Snakes On A Plane was getting made, everyone thought it was hilarious and did not take it seriously at all.
The studio executives behind it felt likewise, as they were one day joking around by trying to come up with the stupidest idea for a movie imaginable. They thought of the title Snakes On A Plane, but much to everyone’s surprise, the script ended up being commissioned.
Another early factor that got the film greenlit was Samuel L. Jackson agreeing to star in the film. When Jackson was sent the script, he loved the straightforward B-movie title so much that he immediately agreed to be in the film. He did not even bother to read the script before agreeing to star in it.
When the internet got word of this film being made, many parodies and memes of the film were made. The internet’s fan response to the film was so intense that the studio decided to appease these fans, who were keen for the film because of how silly it sounded, by reshooting some of the film to make it gorier and sexier, as well as use ideas from the fans.
Jackson’s notorious line, “I’ve had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!” was a paraphrasing of a quote from one of the online parodies of the film. All these unusual factors got Snakes On A Plane made into the guilty pleasure that was unleashed upon the world in 2006.
7. Deadpool (Tim Miller, 2016)
The story of Deadpool being made into a film spans over ten years. Lead actor Ryan Reynolds was first approached in 2005 by Avi Arad, who was in charge of Marvel Comics at the time about making the film. Reynolds immediately loved the character and wanted to star in the film.
However, initial talks for the film went nowhere once Fox Studios took over. Reynolds’ seemingly only chance to play Deadpool’s real identity Wade Wilson was in X-Men Origins: Wolverine in 2009, although the character was handled very poorly and was only a supporting character that did not make any real impression. The fact the film was ill-received did not help to make Reynolds’ dream come true.
With the Deadpool project seemingly dead, Reynolds starred as the character Green Lantern in the movie of the same name. Despite Marvel movies beginning their rise to popularity and megabucks, this superhero movie came and went with little fanfare. Green Lantern’s failure, as well as the character belonging to DC Comics, the rival comic book publisher of Marvel, made it even harder for Reynolds to secure another superhero movie, let alone Deadpool that was created by Marvel.
When Deadpool eventually started being seriously discussed again, 20th Century Fox wanted the film to have a PG-13 rating, whereas Reynolds and the screenwriters had always wanted a R rating, causing more struggle for Reynolds.
However, Reynolds’ prayers were answered when some test footage for the film was leaked online. The footage was just made to show the studio what the film would be like, and was never intended to be shown to the public.
The footage received such a positive reaction from fans that the studio released fans did want a R rated superhero film and finally greenlit Deadpool and making Reynolds’ dream role happen.
8. Barfly (Barbet Schroeder, 1987)
Acclaimed novelist and poet Charles Bukowski wrote stories based on his rough life of drinking, fighting and other debauchery. Although he had fans throughout the world, it could be argued that his biggest fan was French filmmaker Barbet Schroder, who adored Bukowski’s writing. If you watch Barfly, you can sense Schroder’s love for Bukowski’s writing, and Schroder’s stylish yet rough style of filmmaking is a great fit with Bukowski’s stories.
It took years for Schroeder to get the green light for Barfly. He had previously made The Bukowski Tapes, a 240 minute collection of Bukowski reading excerpts of his writing to the camera. Schroeder intended to make a completely faithful adaptation of Bukowski’s screenplay and not make any changes unless Bukowski approved of them.
However, Barfly was nearly cancelled when producer Menahem Golan of Cannon Films told Schroder that the film could not be made due to the studio’s financial problems and money already having been invested in other films.
Schroder was so determined to get Barfly made that he entered the Cannon Films office and threatened to cut off his finger with a battery operated portable saw he brought along with him if they did not greenlight the film.
The idea behind Schroeder’s potential self-mutilation would be that he did not have the time to talk to lawyers to get the film made, and that this act was symbolic of Cannon Films literately cutting off a piece of him for not making the film.
Although Schroeder later admitted that he only really planned to cut off the end of his little finger and go to a hospital immediately afterwards to have it sewed back on, it was enough for Barfly to get the green light.
Originally published here at tasteofcinema.com on Wednesday 7 September 2016