Shelved Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2013-01-29 15:00:00 No comments

Over at the comments section in AICN there was some speculative talk of digging up Philip Kauffman's unproduced original script for the first Star Trek movie, dusting it off, maybe also filing off the serial numbers, and making a new movie out of it. I pointed out this was all but impossible, given the legal quandaries of such a thing. "There is no market for unproduced film scripts," said Fred Pohl in his own book on science fiction in film (and while that was circa 1981 or so, his statement still stands).

He had a lot more to say, all of it heartbreaking:

Some of the best science fiction writers in the world, over the years, have completed major projects that were permanently shelved, or at least withheld from audiences for years or decades. There's the equivalent of a library of a hundred novels, by your favorite writers, which exist only in the form of spiral-bound, plastic-covered shooting scripts. ... The writer cannot even publish them himself and give them away to his friends, because they no longer belong to him.

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Among them: Harlan Ellison's I, Robot script, now released -- by some amazing legal legerdemain, no doubt -- as its own book. That is, I would imagine, the impossible extreme exception to the rule. The vast and uncountable majority of such projects will never see public eyes, such as David Gerrold's original screen treatment for Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (which, he maintains, he got fired from for "doing it right"). Tantalizing projects like The Tourist go unproduced for decades.

The worst part about such a state of affairs is how it leaves us so little to learn from. What sorts of things were being attempted, and to what end, with such projects? Were they never made for reasons that had nothing to do with their quality, or did they really not deliver the goods? (I can't assume that everything obscure is automatically a hidden gem.) The number of unanswered questions multiply like fungi.

It's dismal situations like this which convince me the best route for a filmmaker to take is to get a camera and make a film, not write a screenplay and try to fob that off on a producer. At least with camera in hand, the finished product is yours. A script, once sold, can vanish forever and not even leave behind enough memory to have its disappearance lamented by the right people.

Tags: David Gerrold Harlan Ellison Philip Kauffman Robert A. Heinlein Star Trek development hell movies science fiction writing