EXCLUSIVE: Marginalized by a version rushed for the 2017 Toronto Film Festival weeks before Harvey Weinsteins banishment and The Weinstein Companys implosion, Alfonso Gomez-Rejons The Current War has a new cut and the kind of second chance that most prematurely premiered festival films never get. Upstart 101 Studios has closed a deal for domestic distribution rights and will make The Current War its first substantial theatrical release, eyeing August. That distributor, which paid around $3 million for the rights, has made a wide release commitment, after Gomez-Rejon presented them with an overhauled picture that added five scenes and still came in a good ten minutes shorter than the cut that premiered two Toronto festivals ago.
The director got the chance to do his own cut because of a lucky unexpected break: a final contractual sign-off by executive producer Martin Scorsese hadnt been executed, which legally prevented TWCs new owners — Lantern Entertainment — from setting a quick overseas release with a cut the director disliked. The film stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison, Michael Shannon as George Westinghouse, and Nicholas Hoult as Nikola Tesla. The drama is the raging battle to light the Chicago Worlds Fair and bring electrical power to America.
Taking a break from shooting The Hunt — an Amazon drama series about Nazi hunters that stars Logan Lerman and Al Pacino — Gomez-Rejon told Deadline he was exultant about a film that over a year brought him to the depths of despair because of a rushed and too-long cut that sounds like it was imposed on him by Harvey Weinstein. He was crushed by a helpless feeling that he had missed the chance to succeed with the kind of you-are-there-in-an-atom-splitting-moment narrative that propelled films like The Social Network and The Imitation Game. And then, suddenly, a set of seemingly impossible circumstances gave the director his second chance.
“I had gotten to the point where I realized it was likely I would have to make peace with having a film out there with my name on it that wasnt me,” Gomez-Rejon told Deadline. “But we never gave up, not Timur Bekmambetov, Basil Iwanyk and not my WME reps Mike Simpson, Roger Green and Chris Donnelly at LBI. They waged a constant fight to get it back so I could give it the shape and tone I always wanted. There were times that this film left me shattered for so long that sometimes I couldnt see the light.”
The Current Wars twisty road began when Timur Bekmambetov sparked to a Black List script by Michael Mitnick. Bekmambetov had more than a passing interest in the subject matter. His father was an electrical engineer in Kazakhstan in the Soviet Union, and the son studied to follow in his footsteps before instead veering to film. Bekmambetov had thought the movie was in Serbian-born electrical engineering genius Tesla. “I could never find a way in, and when I read this I realized that Tesla wasnt the hero, because he was a bit of a trickster,” he said. “Edison was the great character here.”
He made a deal with The Weinstein Company, and lobbied for Gomez-Rejon to direct. A Scorsese protege, Gomez-Rejon asked that director to backstop him in a godfather role, something that was an afterthought when the deal was made. The stellar cast came together quickly, the film was made for a reasonable budget in London. Then the young filmmaker felt into the proverbial rabbit hole as Harvey Weinsteins determination to make the Toronto Film Festival — where hed had so much awards success with films like The Kings Speech — led to a rushed post production and editing schedule that accelerated the finish of a film that wasnt ready. Though he kept it secret from all involved, Weinstein would certainly have known by that time that reporters from NYT and The New Yorker were bearing down hard with imminent exposes on decades of alleged sexual harassment and assault allegations. Whether he was distracted by that, or compelled to rush because he knew what was coming — he also premiered an early cut of The Upside at that festival — it proved to be a mistake, rushing the film.
“It had been accepted to Toronto based on an early cut and then came the rush to finish in time,” Gomez-Rejon said. “I knew in my heart, and every fiber of my body was saying, its not ready. I was drowning in notes, to the point I was addressing them more than editing the film. Id get them from London, and then more from New York. We rushed the mix, ADR, sound. You go in knowing [Harvey Weinsteins reputation for re-cutting films]. People warned me to be careful and I was determined to not be another casualty until I saw the [Toronto] cut and felt like an idiot. I went in fearless and then suddenly you realize you are a casualty, a footnote.”
Then came the premiere. I saw the film there and recall Weinstein telling me in the theater hed made a mistake by rushing it and not making the picture ten minutes shorter. Gomez-Rejon was also there, and said he could feel himself dying inside as he observed the restlessness of the polite Toronto audience. As he watched, he replayed in his head every scene he was forced to cut in pre-production or that he lost in editing that would have made believable the intensity of the rivalry between Edison and Westinghouse. Instead, in that Toronto version, Cumberbatchs Edison came off a narcissist and Shannons Westinghouse too classy a gentleman to get in the mud with him. Until, finally, Edison taunted Westinghouses AC current innovations as dangerous, playing up the potential for fatal accidents in a dramatic public presentation. After that, Westinghouse released correspondence showing that the hypocritical Edison served as a technical adviser on the development of the electric chair, this after Edison proclaimed than unlike his rival he would never use electrical power to harm a human being.
“I didnt know what rock bottom was until that moment,” the director said. “I was completely shattered by one screening I knew I wasnt ready for.” Actually, rock bottom came shortly after, when Gomez-Rejon said Weinstein sent him a new post-Toronto cut, demoralizing because the director thought that with a Thanksgiving release date, hed at least have time to make some fixes himself. “I could barely watch but I had to. I could see battles Id won and all that I lost in the negotiations to keep moments I was proud of,” he said. “And I could see that there was too much negotiation and compromise on the screen. It felt off, and I found myself wondering if this was the film I would have to make excuses for my entire career, because the story had so much potential.”
He said he could practically hear the thought process of reviewers there, “that it was game on for every pun on electricity in reviews that would dismiss this film. And then when I got back to L.A. and was presented with the new cut [Harvey] put together, it was like being kicked while I was down. And then the company imploded and Harvey was gone.”
That, and the resulting plunge into bankruptcy, turned out to be a saving grace for the film, among the very lucky things that happened. First, Bekmambetov, whose Bazelevs banner regularly finances his films and had Russian distribution on this one, got tipped to the fact that Lantern — which had emerged with TWC assets from Chapter 11 bankruptcy — was preparing to cut its losses. Bekmambetov received a letter authorizing him to release that last cut overseas.
“The film was frozen in time, and I found myself dreaming of being able to present to its new owners my vision for how I would fix it; about the scenes that were cut in pre-production that would have explained so much,” he said. “The meeting never happened and we read in the trades about the imminent international release of the film. I was confused, and felt powerless but there was still something in the furnace and I couldnt let it go.”
Then, Scorsese blocked the release.
Gomez-Rejon grew up in the Texas border town of Laredo and the early films of Scorsese forged his determination to be a filmmaker. “I was obsessed with his movies as a kid, watched them over and over on VHS and applied to NYURead More – Source