Now that “Fifty Shades of Grey” has become an international box office phenomenon, author E.L. James is seeking more control over the sequel by writing the script herself. Universal Pictures, which had been resistant to the idea, is currently discussing the potential move with James, who wrote the bestselling erotic trilogy about Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, Variety has learned.
Given the success of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which has so far grossed more than $300 million worldwide, the next logical step would be for the studio to announce the greenlight to its sequel, “Fifty Shades Darker.”
According to insiders, the delay in the production of “Fifty Shades Darker” is related to the fact that Universal execs and James are still arguing over details. Unlike most successful franchises, which aim to retain the team behind the first film, it appears that “Fifty Shades” will undergo a dramatic creative reshuffling in the weeks to come. Sources close to the project don’t expect director Sam Taylor-Johnson or screenwriter Kelly Marcel to be back for the second installment, though reps for the studio say no official decisions have been made.
“The studio had always intended to sit down with the author after the film opened and discuss next steps, and that has not yet happened,” said a Universal spokesman.
If James does write the screenplay for “Fifty Shades Darker,” it could mean a later release date for the sequel. James has never written a film before, and the studio may need to factor in extra time for revisions. But as in the case of Gillian Flynn, who wrote both the book and screenplay for “Gone Girl,” the project could potentially benefit from an author adapting her own characters.
Because of this uncertainty, production on “Fifty Shades Darker” likely won’t get under way until the first quarter of 2016. That would mean the sequel wouldn’t arrive until late 2016 or the first quarter of 2017. Without a shooting script or start date, having the movie ready for next year’s Valentine’s Day is highly unlikely.
It’s rare in showbiz for an author to exercise the kind of oversight that James has had over the bigscreen journey of “Fifty Shades.” James didn’t peddle the movie rights until her books were already a worldwide phenomenon, and every studio in town wanted to adapt the trilogy, which gave her considerable bargaining power. As a result, she was able to negotiate a deal with Universal and Focus Features that gave her control over how Christian and Anastasia would appear in the film. Not only does she exercise casting approval — she first met Jamie Dornan, who plays Christian, at his audition in Los Angeles (and was a fan of his work on the BBC TV series “The Fall”) — she’s also credited as a producer on the first movie.
When J.K. Rowling sold her “Harry Potter” books to Warner Bros., she weighed in on a few creative decisions — asking that the cast be made up of British actors, for example. But then she allowed the filmmakers to take liberties with her stories. The films’ screenwriter, Steve Kloves, has said Rowling was hands-off. The same went for Stephenie Meyer, author of the “Twilight” franchise, which inspired “Fifty Shades.”
On the other hand, James was very involved in all aspects of the “Fifty Shades” film, as she attended creative meetings to make sure that the film didn’t veer too far from her book. According to sources, James, who has no prior film experience, would at times hold up the creative process by offering input that wasn’t in line with the filmmakers’ vision. But given James’ contract with Universal, the director and other producers on the film couldn’t go around her.
James and director Taylor-Johnson constantly fought on set and in the editing room on details surrounding the movie. “We disagreed a lot,” Taylor-Johnson told Variety in January. “She created these characters and the story. I was trying to create a film experience that would honor the book but at the same time give us a fresh perspective. That was difficult for her. We’d battle things out. I think you could say we crossed every scenario through our battles.”
While it’s not clear why Taylor-Johnson wouldn’t be back for the sequel, it’s likely both sides aren’t eager to rehash similar arguments. James and Marcel worked on the first draft of “Fifty Shades of Grey” at the author’s London home. But once the studio asked for revisions to tone down the sexual content, Marcel and James had a falling out, according to sources. Patrick Marber was brought in for the rewrites. (Marcel, who declined to be interviewed, hasn’t been part of the “Fifty Shades” press tour.)
In the meantime, production uncertainty has also made scheduling difficult for stars Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson. The two actors are now hot casting commodities. But since they don’t know when they’ll need to disrobe for the next “Fifty Shades,” they haven’t been able to commit to other roles in the near future.