Collaborating with Kubrick

U.S. prodco Creative Differences is resurrecting a project from one of the greatest directors in cinema, with a documentary edge.
March 1, 2011

Forty years after Stanley Kubrick abandoned his ambitious plan to make an historical epic about the life of Napoleon, U.S. production company Creative Differences (Time Warp, Cave of Forgotten Dreams) has secured the rights from the late filmmaker’s estate and MGM to resurrect the project – in documentary form.

Produced in association with the Kubrick estate, Kubrick/Napoleon will examine why the legendary director of classic films such as Lolita, 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange was compelled to spend three years exhaustively researching the French emperor and will bring his annotated Napoleon script to life through CGI-commissioned storyboards.

The film will be executive produced by Jan Harlan, the producer of Kubrick films Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut; written by Alison Castle, editor of the 2009 Taschen book Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made; and directed by Creative Differences president Erik Nelson.

“This is an epic story of one of the most important world figures as interpreted by not just one of the greatest filmmakers, but one of the greatest minds of the 20th century,” says Nelson. “It’s for anybody who has any interest in history, human emotion and the creative process.”

Creative Differences is in the midst of pre-production on Kubrick/Napoleon and has already completed key interviews with the Kubrick family. The producers are looking for additional financing and are aiming for a 2012 release.

An avid Kubrick fan, Nelson had a chance to read the original screenplay for the Napoleon project when it was posted online in 2000, a year after the director’s death.

“I realized when I read the script it was not just the greatest Kubrick film never made, it was also one of the greatest documentary scripts ever made,” he says. “Kubrick approached Napoleon’s life in a narrative fashion. He really approached it as an historical documentary.”

Napoleon was slated for production following the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey in April, 1968. Kubrick finished the script in September, 1969. The film would chart the Emperor’s prolific life on the battlefield and in the bedroom, and require massive period sets, bankable movie stars and – most ambitious of all – thousands of costumed extras for full-scale battle recreations in the original locations.

Although Kubrick came up with several creative solutions to his financial problems, the project fell apart in 1970 when MGM, and later United Artists, pulled the plug. Moreover, three other Napoleon films had come out and tanked at the box office. His dream scuttled, Kubrick immediately threw himself into making A Clockwork Orange .

Four decades later, the studio might finally see a return on investment. Creative Differences spent more than a year negotiating with the Kubrick family, who in turn negotiated with MGM for the rights to use the pre-production materials that will form the basis of Kubrick/Napoleon.

“Because of the scale of Kubrick’s vision, the film exists. Napoleon exists,” says Nelson. “It existed in Kubrick’s mind when he was about to film it and we’re trying to come as close to that dream as we can, but in documentary form.”

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.