Los Angeles Times reporter John Horn, who writes about Hollywood, has been tracking the business side of "Watchmen" for months. Last week, he had an insightful piece on the film’s challenges finding an audience outside of die-hard fans, and in November, he wrote a detailed analysis of the nasty studio legal battle that put the project in jeopardy. Below is his latest "Watchmen" article, a piece on David Hayter.
"Watchmen" has passed through the hands of several filmmakers — Terry Gilliam, Paul Greengrass, Darren Aronofsky among them — and more than a few studios, including 20th Century Fox, Revolution, Universal and Paramount.
Besides producer Larry Gordon, one person has been a consistent presence in the film’s most recent path to the multiplex, and that’s screenwriter David Hayter.
Back when he was co-writing 2002’s "The Scorpion King," Hayter pitched Gordon on an unusual "Watchmen" adaptation: a six-hour miniseries for cable television’s HBO. Hayter says Gordon preferred to make a feature film, and Hayter set to work transforming Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel into a manageable screenplay, which Hayter would direct for Universal.
Universal eventually passed on the project, and Gordon and Hayter headed to Joe Roth’s Revolution Studios, which let Hayter shoot 4½ minutes of test "Watchmen" footage with actor Ray Stevenson ("Punisher: War Zone") at London’s Pinewood Studios. "But Joe didn’t want to give $75 million to a first-timer," Hayter says of why the Revolution version of the crime-fighter story never jelled.
The movie eventually made its way to Paramount, where Greengrass ("The Bourne Identity") stepped in to direct, with Hayter moving to London for half a year to revise the script with the British filmmaker. But just a few months from the start of filming, Paramount pulled the plug, and the movie was homeless again.
Hayter’s "Watchmen" script became an issue in last year’s lawsuit between Fox and Warner Bros., the studio that brought in "300" filmmaker Zack Snyder to direct. Fox executives bad-mouthed Hayter’s screenplay in internal e-mails months before the studio claimed it never had a chance to partner with Warners on the film. (A federal judge ruled in Fox’s favor, and the studio will now share in the film’s ticket sales as part of the settlement of the lawsuit.)
Although Snyder and screenwriter Alex Tse (the TV movie "Sucker Free City") made numerous changes to Hayter’s "Watchmen" script, his contributions were significant, and he shares screenplay credit with Tse on the finished film.
"I put more work into this film than anything I have ever done," says Hayter, who has writing credits on "X-Men" and its sequel "X2."
But the 40-year-old writer thinks that over the six years he was involved in the movie, "Watchmen" only has grown more topical. “What these intervening years did is remind us how fragile the world is," Hayter says. "The movie is all about moral certitude and the various costs of moral certitude."
Unchecked power, Hayter says, has rarely been as much of an issue: "How do we know that people making all of the decisions are not woefully human, which is what they are?"
The ultimate point of "Watchmen," he says, is that people need to "look past their own egos, their own fears, and see what’s truly positive — what’s going to benefit the world and the people around them, and not exclusively themselves."
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UPDATED: An earlier version of this post at one point referred to "Snyder’s ‘Watchmen’ script" but it should have called it "Hayter’s ‘Watchmen’ script."