E.L. James Demanding to Write Screenplay for Fifty Shades Sequel

Posted on February 19, 2015

Dakota Johnson with a Fifty Shades of Grey pencil in her mouth

Fifty Shades of Grey, the film version of E.L. James' novel that began as Twilight fan fiction, has now grossed more than $300 million and is expected to win the weekend box office once again. It is a financial success, no question. So why hasn't the release date for the next film been set? Because author E.L. James wants to write the next screenplay and Universal is not happy.

Variety reports that the sequel, called Fifty Shades Darker has big problems. Normally when a film is a hit, the studio just turns the same team loose with instructions to "do it again." Not this time. The on set battles between director Sam Taylor-Johnson and author E.L. James are now legendary. They cannot stand each other.

Taylor-Johnson (pictured below) is widely credited for editing out the worst parts of the books and focusing on the fairy tale romance aspects of the book. Ms. James was furious that so many sex scenes were cut out, although if they had been left in the film would have merited a stricter rating from the MPAA which would severely limit the box office.

Variety quotes two sources close to the project who say that Sam Taylor-Johnson will not be directing the next film and screenwriter Kelly Marcel will not be writing the screenplay. Instead, the author -- who has never written a screenplay before -- wants to write the script. Universal is reportedly furious over her demands and has no intention of allowing a first time screenwriter to write the script without some kind of help or editing.

Things are so bad that James and Universal haven't even had a face to face meeting yet. A rep for Universal gave this odd statement to Variety, "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." That is clearly because the lawyers are doing the talking.

Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay adapting her novel Gone Girl into a feature film which led to Rosamund Pike getting an Oscar nod for Best Actress. But that collaboration apparently went quite differently than the one for Fifty Shades. Flynn reportedly got along fine with the studio, the director and the stars of the film. There are no tales of Gillian Flynn making David Fincher's life a living hell on the set. In fact, Gillian Flynn, Ben Affleck and David Fincher got along so well that they are going to re-team to remake Strangers On a Train.

There is no question that Ms. James has a lot of power in this negotiation. Studio sources say that if she does get her wish to write the screenplay herself, it will push the release date until the end of 2016 or even to 2017, to allow time for script revisions. If the same team were on board today the film would have been ready for Valentine's Day, 2016. But there's no script, no director and apparently no love lost between the author and the studio, so who knows how this will play out.

Sam Taylor-Johnson directing Fifty Shades of Grey

Top Photo: Chuck Zlotnick/Universal Studios and Focus Features

Second Photo: Mary McCartney/Universal Studios and Focus Features



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