Thanks once again to Screen Rant reader “Nomad” we have another inside scoop on what’s been going on behind the scenes of Lexi Alexander’s Punisher: Warzone (aka Punisher 2). Nomad says that although the source cannot be named, they are HIGHLY reliable.
What follows are the details of what’s happened behind the scenes of the production from the first draft of the screenplay, to the Comic-Con, PG-13 accusations and the revelation that yes, the movie will be rated R. I’m posting what I was sent unedited for the most part, and have added my thoughts here and there.
Keep in mind I really don’t have any bias towards this film one way or another…
Punisher: War Zone rumors deconstructed
I have a very dear friend who’s been around Hollywood for a long time. He’s a unique person here, because his ethics are still intact AND he still has his sanity. (Which means he’s NOT rich!) I think you’ll agree that’s a unique combination here! So I asked him to check out Punisher: War Zone, Lionsgate, and all the surrounding hoopla. He did, bless his sweet heart, and he wrote a fooking dissertation! Well, he’s brilliant, too. Did I mention I adore him? I do!!!
What follows is his report, which I have NOTedited, even though it conflicts with some of my own previously held opinions. At the end of his letter, I’ve attached a bit of a time line he wrote, so people can follow what happened and when.
No, I will NOT tell you who he is. So please don’t bother asking. His credibility is in what he writes, which is balanced and fair. You’ll decide on your own, neh?
Sorry it took so long. I think I’ve read enough on “Punisher: War Zone” and Lionsgate Films (hereafter PWZ and LGF for brevity) now to offer an educated analysis of what may have happened and why you shouldn’t worry too much.
First I want to dispel a few MISPERCEPTIONS about PWZ, since those have unfairly put some people off.
MISPERCEPTION #1: “PWZ is a sequel whose script was so horrible that star Thomas Jane walked away from it.” Not quite! Per PWZ co-writer Kurt Sutter in a Collider.com interview: “Nick Santora and myself, whose names were on the second big draft, got caught in the crossfire when Tom Jane was growing dissatisfied with the turn Punisher was taking. Tom lashed out at the script using it as his scapegoat for exiting the project. [...] I like Tom Jane, I’ve had lunch with him, think he’s a decent guy. But I always felt that if Marvel really wanted to re-invent the franchise, you’d have to re-invent the Punisher”. And PWZ did in fact morph from sequel to REBOOT, so recasting was likely inevitable anyway to avoid confusion. Tom himself said that his reason for leaving was that LGF rejected Walter Hill as director and he stood by Hill — but I think he saw the writing on the wall and left before he could be recast. Tom strikes me as generally bitter about his parting with PWZ and even told fans at July 2008′s San Diego Comic-Con that PWZ is a “piece of s***” (though he has no way of knowing this), but to his credit he later wished new Punisher Ray Stevenson well (“He sounds like a cool guy [who] loves the character and wants to do him justice. For his sake I hope the movie doesn’t suck.”).
Sutter, whose draft began the shift towards rebooting and was cited as Tom’s other reason for leaving, ultimately removed his name from credit arbitration because so little of his work remained; credited writers are Santora, Marcum & Holloway (the latter two are Marvel’s “go-to guys” whose “Iron Man” later did big business). The only person who HAS seen the actual shooting script AND publicly commented on it is Kurt Sutter. His verdict per his blog: while it was obviously not HIS vision, he graciously said it was “tight”, “followed the perfect comic book formula”, and he predicted “true fans of the Punisher comic books will enjoy this movie” and “it will open huge”.
How will that shooting script translate to the screen? “The Spirit” producer Deborah del Prete has seen Lexi’s rough cut and said she loved it and thought it would please fans. We’ve no word yet on how much of Lexi’s cut remains intact, but PWZ cinematographer Steve Gainer said that the August 16 cut that he viewed was “something wonderful” that he “loved” — he sounded proud of the results. [From what I've seen of "The Spirit" so far, I don't think I'd take del Prete's comment as a ringing endorsement. - Vic]
MISPERCEPTION #2: “Nobody will see PWZ because there’s no star power in the cast.” PWZ is probably relying not on big names but on a high concept designed to appeal to a niche audience of Punisher fans as well as a general action fanbase. Punisher ’04 had a bigger budget but higher overhead because of big names like John Travolta, and it performed poorly, so I can understand LGF refining their strategy and leveraging their risks. In any case, PWZ’s cast are all experienced actors, if not widely known. [I honestly don't believe that anyone ever expected this to be some huge blockbuster seen by "everyone." - Vic]
Now I want to discuss the RUMORS about PWZ that have unfairly put some people off. LGF could put an end to all of the bad publicity pretty easily with a press release, but for whatever reason they haven’t, so I’m simply going to analyze what is known and how it may affect the finished film; the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.
Many agree that PWZ director Lexi Alexander is a tough cookie whose enthusiasm for her work is infectious. Cast members Ray Stevenson and Dominic West both attested to being uninspired by early drafts they read, and Lexi talked them into doing the film based on sheer enthusiasm. Crew member Tom Book hadn’t cared for the project at first, but he attested that Lexi soon inspired everyone to believe they were working on “a masterpiece” so they worked diligently through the packed 40-day shoot consisting of mostly wintry Montreal nights. Her blog inspired the many Internet-savvy Punisher fans to get excited about the film as well.
On the flip side, I believe Lexi’s made her fair share of enemies (and who in Hollywood hasn’t?). The IESB source who slammed Lexi’s rough cut as “one of the worst movies ever made” strikes me as just some malcontent Lexi pissed off, especially given that UGO’s more impartial “Detective Soap” said that in spite of Lexi’s “Jekyll/Hyde” personality, her footage was fantastic. It hasn’t escaped me that Lexi’s “Hooligans” co-writer Dougie Brimson popped out of nowhere on the FilmSchoolRejects comments section just to retort to Tom Book that Lexi was “disloyal” and “devious”, adding “trust me, Im far from alone in thinking that way.” [I have no opinion on this as I'm not privy to the details. Personally all I care about is the final product and even directors and actors with bad attitudes who are disliked can produce a great film. - Vic]
So while Lexi may be a brilliant director with a talent for inspiring artists to work hard for her vision, I think she is probably very protective of that vision and tends to butt heads with people who might threaten it. The 2002 Oscar-nominated film she directed before PWZ, “Johnny Flynton”, was a 20-minute independent film she had great control over. She co-wrote, directed, and executive produced 2005′s feature-length “Hooligans”, scrapping with her co-writer along the way. But with PWZ she was suddenly working with a big Hollywood studio that was undergoing change.
I believe that LGF greenlit PWZ, Lexi delivered, and LGF was mostly pleased with her April 1 screening, as Lexi reported in her blog — and then the “Midnight Meat Train” (MMT) business began affecting things. Peter Block, who was in charge when both MMT & PWZ were greenlit, left LGF in November 2007 and Joe Drake replaced him. Both MMT and PWZ are bloody, violent, hard-R films based on properties with existing NICHE audiences. Given how Drake shuffled around MMT’s release date and then “dumped” it into only 100 backwater dollar theaters with plans for a quick DVD release, I can imagine producer Gale Anne Hurd became concerned and wanted to save PWZ from MMT’s fate, so she brought in the Hulk (2008) editors to make Lexi’s cut more mainstream, as reported by FilmSchoolRejects’ source. I believe the UGO rumor that LGF clashed with Lexi over her publishing unapproved publicity materials to her blog. I believe the FilmSchoolRejects rumor that Lexi’s first trailer cut wasn’t liked by LGF, so I’m thinking they cut a new one and released that in early June, since Lexi’s blog made a point of mentioning she was surprised by it, alarming some that all may not be well. LGF did sack Lexi’s chosen composer (Christopher Franke, who had scored both “Johnny Flynton” and “Hooligans”; Charlie Clouser was briefly reported to have come on board, then Michael Wandmacher). [Considering what Lionsgate did to Midnight Meat Train I can understand some alarm on Gale Anne Hurd's part. - Vic]
I suspect Lexi was more than simply frustrated by LGF’s tightening control over post-production. She had 6 months to prepare for July’s Comic-Con, the US’s #1 comic book film promotion event, so she would have had to be EXTREMELY pissed off to schedule her honeymoon during it. All of this is consistent with the FilmSchoolRejects and UGO rumors, which agree with each other that Lexi was unusually difficult and unpredictable for a Hollywood director, and that LGF limited her post-production involvement (but did not fire her). FilmSchoolRejects’ source also later called bulls*** on LatinoReview’s PG-13 rating rumor and confirmed the film will remain rated-R, which cinematographer Steve Gainer also later confirmed.
So PWZ’s July 24 2008 Comic-Con panel was conspicuously missing the film’s own director, and Gale announced Lexi was on her honeymoon. Then “frustrated” long-time LGF insider “Jigsaw” contacted AICN a day later to say Lexi wasn’t on her honeymoon — she was FIRED along with her composer and couldn’t talk because of a “non-disclosure clause”. He was probably (misguidedly?) trying to pressure LGF to restore Lexi’s involvement and save PWZ from a crap hard-rock soundtrack. [Which was the background music for the most recent restricted trailer. - Vic] I think Lexi took advantage of the controversy to let her feelings be known when that very day she removed all mention of PWZ from her blog and replaced it with a picture of the see/hear/speak no evil monkeys. Surely she was aware of the rumor and the message that picture would send (“if I can’t speak, I’ll say it with a picture!”). I can’t imagine LGF demanded she remove all the good publicity she had generated for PWZ with her blog; she started it only after beginning work on PWZ and mentioned Lionsgate controlling what she could divulge. If Lionsgate asked her not to speak further on PWZ there, it would have been simple enough to not touch the archives and quietly comply in the future. Even if Lionsgate DID ask her to remove all mention of PWZ, it would have been easy for Lexi to replace it with a message like “Lionsgate wishes to control publicity about PWZ now and has asked me to remove everything related to it.” So there is perhaps truth to the FilmSchoolRejects rumor that Lexi is “childish” and “erratic” and UGO’s rumor that she was a “Jekyll/Hyde” sort who resented LGF’s “censorship”. [I think that Hollywood directors are starting to leverage the power of the online movie community to influence things in their direction. Jon Favreau dabbled in a bit of this with the stories that he had not been contacted to direct Iron Man 2 a couple of months ago. - Vic]
Because Marvel fans seem to live on the Internet, Lexi’s blog worked wonders in garnering their support. I can sympathize with her frustration with LGF, but her unprofessional blog stunt fanned a s***storm that eventually only served to torpedo PWZ’s image and, oddly enough, stroke Lexi’s ego — Punisher fansites lit up with “Bring Lexi Back” campaigns including a petition and a devoted website (GPA’s pwztruth), the latter attacking Gale Anne Hurd as a no-talent butcher of Lexi’s film. Quite honestly all of this is futile, since Lexi’s further involvement is self-limited because she’s already working on a new project per her own blog! It’s the very rare director who gets final cut anyway. [I commented here on the site that any attacks on Hurd where no doubt COMPLETELY unjustified. - Vic]
Regardless of Lexi’s further involvement, I believe Lionsgate is doing its best to deliver a compromise that will please both hardcore Punisher fans and general action fans; the shooting script was good; Lexi’s vision was strong and her footage looks great; it’s still a bloody violent hard-R (verified publicly by Steve); and it’s got a composed score as the film deserves and not a thrashing hard-rock soundtrack (verified privately by Gale). [The soundtrack news is certainly good! When I heard the music layered over that last trailer I almost decided right there I wouldn't even bother seeing the film. - Vic]
I will say that with Lexi’s blog now silent on PWZ, LGF needs to get correct information out and turn around the damage that was done. The bottom line: if Punisher fans can get past the misperceptions and rumors, they’ve still got plenty of reason to look forward to PWZ. [Agree completely. Why isn't Lionsgate doing "official" damage control? - Vic]
So that’s my take. Hope it helps, and share as you like.
Again, from Nomad:
This may make things a bit more clear if you’ve any question. Just note who contacted whom and that may clarify what their motivations were. Here’s a complete timeline:
1. July 24, 2008: PWZ producer Gale Anne Hurd announced at Comic-Con that director Lexi Alexander had gotten married to the film’s first assistant director and did not attend as she was on her honeymoon.
2. July 25, 2008: AICN’s Harry Knowles claimed that a LGF insider he’d known for years (“Jigsaw”) contacted him out of “sheer frustration” to say” Lexi was NOT on her honeymoon and had missed Comic-Con because she had been fired; she couldn’t say anything because she was wrapped up in a non-disclosure clause; and LGF had jettisoned Lexi’s composer and was going to market the film with a hard rock soundtrack instead of an orchestral score. On the same day, Lexi Alexander wiped her blog of all mention of PWZ and replaced it with a picture of the see/hear/speak no evil monkeys, which seemed to confirm she’d at least been gagged.
3. July 28, 2008: FilmSchoolRejects’ Neil Miller pursued LGF for confirmation of the AICN rumors, and finally a “reliable source close to the production” said: Lexi was not fired but she has been “pulled away” from the project; Lexi had turned in a cut for the first trailer that LGF hadn’t liked, and her response was “childish” and “unpredictably erratic”; producer Gale Anne Hurd brought in the Hulk editors to recut the film and make it “more presentable” for its release on December 5; if the production cannot “be salvaged” it could lead to a “limited [theater] release and a bigger DVD release”. In the comments section, PWZ crew member Tom Book defended Lexi as a loyal inspiring “tough cookie” who had been essentially abandoned by producer Gale Anne Hurd during the brutal winter production in Montreal, and that “a bunch of us have seen her cut and are aware of the changes the studio wants to make and trust me, no Punisher fan would agree with those changes.” Lexi’s “Hooligans” co-writer Dougie Brimson responded to Tom Book that Lexi was “disloyal” and “devious”, adding “trust me, I’m far from alone in thinking that way”!
4. July 29, 2008: UGO’s Dr. Know claimed they received a call from an LGF inside source (“Detective Soap”) who said: trouble between LGF and Lexi started months ago when LGF sent her some publicity materials for her approval that she put up on her blog, and when they asked her to remove them she went “a little bananas” and claimed this was “unfair and stifling censorship”; Lexi is like “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”; Lexi really had been on her honeymoon during Comic-Con but though she knew the date plenty in advance had not bothered to change her plans; Lexi’s raw footage was fantastic; Lexi was new to working with a large studio and may not have been prepared for the lesser control over the finished product; PWZ had not been completely taken out of her hands but she was still a consultant and involved in further decision-making. CHUD’s Devin Faraci called bullsh*t UGO’s source, saying that “it’s news [in Hollywood] when someone is NICE to work with” and that UGO had painted her as “one step away from saying she had bad PMS”.
5. July 30, 2008: IESB’s Robert Sanchez claimed their own Lionsgate insider said: Lexi’s first cut which was shown to the studio was “unwatchable,” “unreleasable”, “one of the worst movies ever made”, and “Dolph Lundgren’s 1989 Punisher is a masterpiece compared to this outing”. (My note: This from an Oscar-nominated director?? I don’t think so. Sounds personal though!) On the same day, Lexi finally made a new post to her blog in which she sounded bitter about “the vicious cyber world” and mean people; she thanked people who were loyal to her, implying there were others who were NOT; she implied things had not gone smoothly in Hollywood and she’d moved on; and that she was excited about working on a new project with her former “Green Street Hooligans” producer Deborah del Prete.
6. August 1, 2008 (approx.): IMDB.com’s PWZ running time was updated to a running time of 87 minutes, fueling fan fears that “Lexi’s film was being butchered by Gale Anne Hurd”. In addition, Lionsgate’s “Midnight Meat Train”, a hardcore bloody violent horror film based on a story by Clive Barker, premiered in about 100 dollar theaters instead of wide release as had been hoped for by horror fans, a decision apparently made by new LGF COO Joe Drake. Rumors swirled that Drake was “dumping” the films made by his predecessor out of spite; Punisher fans feared this fate might befall PWZ too. Also, somewhere along the way IMDB was updated to show that Charlie Clouser had succeeded Lexi’s preferred composer Christopher Franke, then the composer was removed altogether. UpcomingFilmScores then reported that the new composer was Michael Wandmacher. When his source was questioned, the author wrote: “It was confirmed by his agency, Evolution Music Partners. Contrary to all the rumors going around on the net, which are ALL false, no other composer has been attached to this project save for Lexi’s original composer, Chris Franke. And the score is an orchestral/electronic hybrid. There’s no “heavy metal” in it.”
7. August 4, 2008: PWZ producer Gale Anne Hurd was alerted to some scathing posts about her on IMDB’s PWZ message boards and was confused by the hostility. In a private email she said: PWZ will NOT have a hard rock score but an orchestral score as the film deserves, and Lionsgate had NOT posted the 87-minute running time to IMDB because that wasn’t true. She even wondered if a rival studio were trying to give PWZ bad publicity by providing IMDB the bogus run time.
8. August 14, 2008: Latino Review’s George Roush claimed a source “deep within the bowels of Hollywood and close to the Punisher: War Zone project” contacted him to say: “the big fight over the Punisher project is Lionsgate wants a PG-13 cut to be released”, presumably with hopes of emulating the success of the PG-13 “The Dark Knight”. FilmSchoolRejects’ Robert Fure called bulls*** on Latino Review and tracked down their own source who is “close to the production” and whom he trusts completely, who said: PWZ will definitely be rated R.
9. August 16, 2008: PWZ cinematographer Steve Gainer posted on Tim Bradstreet / Thomas Jane’s Raw Studios message board that: Lexi is not off the film, is still “steering the boat”, is still involved in the edit process, did in fact get married; he saw a cut of PWZ that day that ran 91 minutes (my note: that’s only 4 minutes longer than the rumored 87 minutes from IMDB but still a standard length for a feature film); PWZ will be rated R and will be released in theaters on December 5, 2008. Based on Steve’s post, AICN and Latino Review published clarifications.
Well there you have it. I wanted to get this out to you ASAP. What an unbelievably sordid mess… The sad part of it is, that in the end I have a feeling this will end up being about a fairly unremarkable film – a tempest in a teapot.
Punisher: War Zone opens on December 5th.