The real abusive relationship in Fifty Shades of Grey happened behind the scenes between author E.L. James and director Sam Taylor-Johnson, whom James undermined at every turn thanks to a contract that gave her an unprecedented amount of creative control. Quarrels over everything from casting to dialogue, costuming or lack thereof are rumored to be the reason Taylor-Johnson won’t be returning for the sequel Fifty Shades Darker. But if you thought driving off the director who helped make her movie a box office smash was enough, you don’t know James. Next she has the film’s celebrated screenwriter Kelly Marcel in her sights.
Variety reveals James’ demand to screenwrite the Fifty Shades sequel hersefl. The studio’s reluctance to cave to this megalomaniac is delaying the project’s greenlight, meaning Fifty Shades Darker could be pushed to 2017. But Universal has solid cause for concern.
For one thing, James has earned nothing but bad press as stories of production battles have sprung up. These will make replacing Taylor-Johnson far trickier as would-be helmers know who’s really in control of the sequel. On top of that, James has zero experience at screenwriting. Sure, some authors make the transition to screenwriter quite neatly, as Gillian Flynn did last year with Gone Girl. But I’m less hopeful for James as I found her book so badly written that I gave up on it despite the cultural pressure to dig in. Plus, Flynn talked openly about trusting in David Fincher and his guidance in her revisions. It’s difficult to imagine James collaborating with a filmmaker in the same way.
Universal is currently resisting James’ latest demand. However, the $311 million Fifty Shades of Grey has earned in just 6 days equals major leverage for her. But frankly, James’ bad attitude about adaptation could kill the franchise of which she considers herself the almighty protector. She needs to take a page from J.K. Rowling or even James’ hero Twilight author Stephanie Meyer, both of whom entrusted filmmakers to do right by their stories and characters. With a sequel all but guaranteed, the quality of Fifty Shades Darker depends James in way she didn’t expect. She needs to let go.