Somewhere, Paul Schrader’s head must be spinning. Again.
Back in 2004, the iconoclastic “Taxi Driver” screenwriter found himself locked in a headline-grabbing battle for creative control when his “Dominion,” a prequel to William Friedkin’s Oscar-winning classic “The Exorcist,” was taken away from him by producers Morgan Creek and subsequently reshot, in its entirety, by director Renny Harlin.
Now, a mysterious Facebook page suggests that Schrader may be encountering similar troubles on his latest directing gig, “The Dying of the Light.” The page, entitled “Save Paul Schrader’s Dying of the Light,” includes a headshot of Schrader, alongside photos of stars Nicolas Cage, Anton Yelchin and Irene Jacob, as well as executive producer Nicolas Winding Refn.
The page’s “about” box reads as follows: “The truth about Dying of the Light…The movie was taken away from Paul Schrader! The movie is now recut and the control of the film was taken away from Mr. Schrader two months ago. Since this was a project Mr. Schrader, conceived, wrote and directed, we petition online the Producers, Grindstone Pictures, Lionsgate Films and Red Granite Film to make sure Schrader and Cage’s version of the film is seen to the public as the director intended! The fate of the film now rests in the hands of Grindstone/Lionsgate and Red Granite. The name of everyone who likes this page will be added to the petition.”
Although the provenance of the page is unclear, a number of Romanian-language comments suggest it may have originated in Bucharest, where Schrader’s film was shot (with additional location shooting in Queensland). As of this afternoon, the page had 155 likes.
The story of a middle-aged CIA agent battling frontotemporal dementia as he tracks an elusive, Bin Laden-esque terrorist, “Dying” was originally written by Schrader in 2010 as a spec script. The project was set up later that year as a directing vehicle for a pre-“Drive” Refn, with Harrison Ford attached to star. Refn later said in interviews that things fell apart over Ford’s objection to having the character die at the end — a point Refn and Schrader considered non-negotiable.
The movie came together again in 2014 with Schrader himself directing and Cage in the lead, financed by the Bahamas-based TinRes Entertainment and produced by Todd Williams, Scott Clayton, and Gary Hirsch through their Over Under Media banner. As reported by Variety in March, Red Granite Intl. came aboard as sales agent shortly after principal photography wrapped.
In August, it was announced that “Dying” had been bought for the U.S. by Grindstone Entertainment Group — a direct-to-video subsidiary of Lionsgate whose recent releases include such titles as “The Prince” starring Bruce Willis and Jason Patric, and the Steven Seagal vehicle “A Good Man.” It seemed an odd match of filmmaker and distributor to say the least, and perhaps the first sign that something was unwell in Schraderville. A source with knowledge of the production confirms that the producers and Grindstone have re-edited and rescored Schrader’s director’s cut.
“We are thrilled to have acquired ‘Dying of the Light,’ a suspenseful, thrill ride in which Schrader has captured one of the best performances of Cage’s career,” Grindstone CEO Barry Brooker said in an official statement at the time of the acquisition. But as of this writing, no release date has been announced, and no mention of the film exists on Grindstone’s website.
New York Film Festival director Kent Jones, who has seen Schrader’s version, says he was “keenly interested” in the film for this year’s festival, but that when he reached out to Lionsgate, they professed to know nothing about the film. “It’s a movie by a real filmmaker,” says Jones. “Paul’s always been commercially minded, but he’s also a guy with a vision. His films are the definition of movies that operate on two levels at the same time. So this movie’s a thriller, but it’s also an existential inquiry. He’s stretching a low budget in ingenious ways. What I saw a pretty compelling character study and a movie that I was looking forward to seeing in its finished state.”
Jones also praises Cage’s performance. “I think he’s amazing,” he says. “He’s extremely disciplined and focused. When he’s working with a director who’s really working closely with him, he becomes very powerful. You remember what a powerful actor he is.”
A source also confirms that “Dying” was invited to have a gala premiere at next month’s Rome Film Festival, where Schrader was to receive a lifetime achievement award, but that the invitation was withdrawn when the festival learned that the version they were offered by Italian distributor Barter (who bought the film from Red Granite) was not Schrader’s cut.
In his “Exorcist” battle a decade ago, Schrader won a minor victory when Morgan Creek and Warner Bros. gave his “Dominion” a limited theatrical release nine months after Harlin’s “Exorcist: The Beginning.”
Schrader’s most recent pic, the crowdfunded Lindsay Lohan vehicle “The Canyons,” was released by IFC in 2013.
Cage, Refn and Schrader did not return requests to comment for this story, nor did reps for Grindstone and Over Under Media.