It’s not unusual for shows not make it through the development process and land a series order, but it’s not often that they are as high profile as David Fincher‘s “Utopia.” The proposed HBO series was a remake of the Brit series on Channel 4 series which follows a group of people who get their hands on a cult graphic novel called “The Utopia Experiments,” which has predicted no shortage of disasters. An organization known only as The Network hunts them down as the group tries to prevent the next disaster foretold in the pages of the manuscript from happening. It’s high concept stuff, and talent was top shelf, with “Gone Girl” writer Gillian Flynn penning the scripts, Rooney Mara slated to star, and Fincher himself set to direct the entire first season. But ultimately, HBO said no. So, what happened?
On the Empire podcast, the director revealed that at the end of the day, it was all about dollars and cents. His budget was just slight over what HBO was willing to spend, and with neither side willing to compromise, it fell apart.
“I thought we had really, really good scripts and a great cast and we were getting ready to do that and you know it came down to $9 million. In the end, when you actually kind of lay it all out, $9 million in the scheme of things doesn’t sound like a huge discrepancy between what we wanted to do and what they wanted to pay for,” Fincher explained. “But when you cut $9 million out of $100 million, 10% is not 10% in filmmaking. In filmmaking terms, you’re gonna have the same amount of drivers, you’re gonna have the same amount of accountants, you’re gonna have the same amount of costumers, you’re gonna have the same amount of stunt people. The only area that’s going to have to shrink by 10% is the amount of time that you have with the actors.”
The British version of “Utopia” was almost certainly operating with less money, but Fincher had massive ambitions for his version, essentially aiming to create a blockbuster-sized TV show.
“…our version of it was we were attempting to do something that would allow HBO to run something in the summer during kind of you know spandex blockbuster tentpole time, and I wanted to make a show that would sort of rival the tentpole movies maybe not in terms of the CG or how much the universe is gonna explode, but in terms of twists and turns,” Fincher said. “The material—Gillian Flynn wrote the scripts and you know it’s a road movie. They go from one place to the next place, they burn that place to the ground, they go to the next place and they shave their heads and dye their hair and get tattoos and then burn that place to the ground. It wasn’t ‘Cheers.’ It wasn’t like you build a bar, and then generate some pages and the cast comes in and reads some lines. Which was enormously difficult. This was inherently chronological. Any time that you sort of impose a chronology to film production things become—because you literally can’t go to the next scene until you finish the scene in the kitchen that burns do the ground. You have to make sure you have it done, then you can burn it to the ground.”
Essentially, it sounds like “Utopia” wasn’t the easiest material to tweak to fit a budget, so in the end, everyone walked away. It’s a shame, but I suppose had “Utopia” gone forward, we might not currently be enjoying the brilliant “Mindhunter.”
As for Fincher’s next big screen outing, he’s currently attached to the undated and still developing sequel to “World War Z,” however it hardly sounds like everything is locked into place with that one.
“I’ve been working for about a year now with [the writer of the original ‘Utopia’] Dennis Kelly on ‘World War Z’… We’re hoping to get a piece of material that’s a reason to make a movie not an excuse to make a movie,” he said.
That’s the Fincher thoughtfulness we know and love and it’s good to know that he’s not going to jump into anything until he was a script he can believe in. Listen to the full chat below. [via Collider]