This article was updated on April 27, 2004.
Having first made a prequel to the 1973 blockbuster with Paul Schrader and found it lacking in overt frights, Morgan Creek commissioned a second “Exorcist” prequel with a new cast, a tweaked script and a new director in Renny Harlin; that pic will be released in theaters Aug. 20.
Will Schrader’s movie be consigned to the scrap heap? No, Morgan Creek topper James Robinson has other plans: He’s seeking to have Warner Bros. release both helmers’ “Exorcist” pics on DVD simultaneously. Among other potential confusions, this raises the specter of a complicated credits arbitration with the DGA.
It’s an unconventional, and possibly unprecedented move, with sizable implications for both pics’ bottom lines. Almost $100 million is at stake.
“I’m very proud of my film, and I think it deserves to be seen,” Schrader told Daily Variety. “If I get the DVD, I can say ‘God bless you Renny; may your film do well.’ ”
Schrader said he’s agreed in principle to the arrangement with Morgan Creek in order to get his version seen and as a way of settling the contractual issues of his being owed a preview and an official screening. He also said the pact will eliminate the possibility of a Directors Guild of America credit arbitration.
Schrader noted his original marching orders were to make a non-hardcore horror film lacking in the original’s more shocking qualities.
“They made it clear — no spinning heads and no pea soup,” he said. “So that’s what I delivered, but then they changed their mind.”
Schrader noted the pact includes a nondisparagement clause for both sides.
“The agreement allows me to say that it’s Robinson’s money and his decision,” he added. “This is kind of a case of buyer’s remorse, as if you bought a Lexus, and when you got it home, you decided that you really wanted a Hummer, so now you have a Lexus and a Hummer in your garage.”
It’s unclear whether consumers would pay extra for two prequels. Also unknown is whether Warners would bundle both films in one DVD or simply make both films available individually. A spokesman for the studio said Morgan Creek hadn’t yet discussed the DVD plan with execs there.
Robinson said he’s deferring to Warner homevid prexy James Cardwell on the subject of how many discs to package, but insists the two “Exorcist” films are distinct, and not one film that has simply been reshot.
“This is going to sound unbelievable,” Robinson said of the decision, “but we made a movie — twice. If you see the two movies, you wouldn’t believe it’s the same d.p.”
After Schrader’s “Exorcist” allegedly came up short on scares, scribe Alexi Hawley was hired to change the script in a few areas, and its central characters were recast and, in some cases, renamed.
For example, Gabriel Mann, who played Father Francis in the Schrader version, was replaced by James D’Arcy in that role. Mann was in production on another film and therefore not available for the reshoot.
In Harlin’s movie, the character of Rachel (Clara Bellar) was changed to Sarah and played by Izabella Scorupco. And the part of Che-che, played for Schrader by pop star Billy Crawford, was changed to Joseph, played by Remy Sweeny.
The motivation for the dual DVD release was the substantial cost of shooting Schrader’s picture, which Robinson says was roughly $32 million to $35 million. Harlin’s version, shot with the same cinematographer, cost between $52 million to $54 million, according to Robinson.
“The situation is in some ways the ultimate film school exercise, though you usually don’t give each director $35 million to make their film,” added Schrader, best known for penning classics like “Raging Bull” and “Taxi Driver.”
Of course, “Exorcist” had been bedeviled by numerous snafus that predated even the Schrader/Harlin imbroglio. John Frankenheimer was to have helmed the film originally, but died before he got the chance. Schrader’s intended lead, Liam Neeson, was replaced by Stellan Skarsgard, due to Neeson’s scheduling conflicts.
The DGA has declined to comment on the matter.