Did 'Deadpool' Director Tim Miller Leak the Test Footage That Launched a Franchise?
Sometimes in order to get things done in Hollywood a person has to take drastic measures.
In the case of Deadpool, the hard-R-rated superhero movie that just made history with a $132.7 million opening weekend, it was the leak of early test footage (and the ensuing enthusiastic response) that spurred a reluctant studio into making the film after years of indecision. And while the person responsible for the leak has never been officially outed, I am now prepared to say with near (but not total) certainty that it was either the film's director, Tim Miller, or someone close to him.
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Neither 20th Century Fox nor Miller's reps would comment, but I've spoken with many key inside sources involved with the project, and most fingers point to Hollywood's newest man of the hour, who, amazingly, is making his feature directorial debut on a massive tentpole at 50 years of age.
To explain, one has to go back to the beginning. Deadpool was created fairly recently — at least as far as comic book characters go — in 1990, by artist Rob Liefeld and writer Fabian Nicieza. The character quickly developed a small but loyal following for his irreverent, status quo-shattering sensibilities. It’s fitting, then, that to get the movie actually made, the creative team shattered the usual rules of studio moviemaking.
Wade Wilson, Deadpool’s alter ego, made his cinematic debut in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, played by Ryan Reynolds. The Fox movie mangled the character completely: Here was a profane, wise-cracking antihero, nicknamed the Merc with a Mouth, and he was turned into not only a cheap villain but one whose mouth literally was sewn shut for the scenes in which he became Deadpool.
Still, Fox saw the character’s potential and signed Reynolds for a spinoff. At the time, Reynolds' star power was popping. The actor had just starred in The Proposal, Disney’s hit comedy with Sandra Bullock, and he had beat out Bradley Cooper to get the coveted gig of The Green Lantern in Warner Bros.' big DC Comics adaptation.
Fox hired Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick to write the Deadpool script, and in April 2011 hired Miller to direct. Miller was an unusual choice, a visual effects specialist who founded and still runs Blur Studios, which is known for its cutting-edge video game trailers and title sequences. He would be making his feature directorial debut on the project.
Studios sometime like first-time directors because they can be easy to control and tend to do what they’re told. And this one even had a best animated short Oscar. One of the things that got Miller the gig was a six-minute trailer he made for the DC Universe Online video game. It showed Lex Luthor and a band of super-villains killing Earth’s mightiest heroes, and it melted fanboys’ eyeballs. It was epic and cinematic, everything they want their comic book movies to be.
Because of Miller's success making short films and trailers, insiders say he wasn’t concerned with being politic to get the Deadpool gig. Instead of a yes man, Fox decided to hire a director that wasn’t afraid to go his own way.
But a pest of a filmmaker was the least of Fox's problems, as far as Deadpool was concerned. Two months after locking down the creative team of Miller, Wernick and Reese, in June of 2011, Reynolds' Green Lantern opened. And it was a disaster. All of a sudden, Reynolds went from red hot to ice cold, and the Deadpool project (yet another superhero movie starting the guy who just flopped in one?) was tainted. Plus, the script Fox had for Deadpool was filled with the kind of profanity that talent agents and sailors use all day but would never get a PG-13 rating — traditional for superhero movies from Marvel or DC. It also had nudity and decapitations and gore galore.
Many meetings were held at Fox, internally and with the creative team, which never changed — Reynolds, Miller, Reese and Wernick all remained with the project, a rarity in a business where turnover is high and execs chase the newest flavor. But no matter how many discussions were held, there was no denying that Deadpool was an R-rated movie that was only going to appeal to young men. It was decidedly a one quadrant project.
Studios use "comps" to compare how similar movies did in the past to predict how future movies will perform, what kind of audiences they grabbed, how the marketing campaigns were run, etc. Deadpool didn’t have any comps, which made execs extremely trigger-shy on a green light.
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Despite nerves, the studio gave Miller a low-six-figure budget to go and make a test reel, something that would show execs what a Deadpool movie would look like. It wasn't unprecedented. Zack Snyder made a test reel for 300; it began with the Warner Bros. logo turning into a Spartan shield, which was an excellent way to prep the execs for what was to come, and it got the film approved. Maybe once they saw the reel, Fox execs would approve the go-ahead.
But even with the Deadpool test footage, Fox executives are said to have been scared. Tom Rothman, then the studio's co-chairman, was on the fence (the test footage ended with Deadpool saying, "Hi, Tom") and, after he left in late 2012, sole chairman Jim Gianopulos took his spot on the same fence. The economics made little sense. A PG-13 version of the script was on the table. Replacing Reynolds was considered, as was replacing Miller and/or the writers.
And then it happened. In early August 2014, the test footage leaked online.
The leak could have gone horribly wrong. The footage might have prompted a collective "meh," killing the project entirely. But fanboys online went ape for what they saw. The support was enthusiastic and overwhelming.
Here’s what We Got This Covered wrote at the time, pretty much summing up the situation: "This test footage rules, representing everything I want in a Deadpool movie, and I’d hate to see this golden opportunity pass by, so Twentieth Century Fox, if you’re listening, PLEASE DO THE RIGHT THING. I know you’re more interested in Marvel properties that can tie into the bigger universe, but Deadpool could command a huge audience in his own right."
Some might argue that Fox at least was complicit in the leak, if not the ultimate source. It might make sense: Fox production chief Emma Watts was having trouble getting sign-off for a project she believed in; a nervous studio might have wanted to test the waters before making a final call on what to do with a property it couldn't figure out how to handle. Plus, the footage belonged to Fox, not Miller, so he could have been sued for distributing it without at least tacit permission.
But risk-averse movie studios typically don't leak their own internal test footage, even in desperate situations (potential embarrassment and encouraging other leaks are just two of the reasons). And studios don't like fans to see raw, unfinished footage, preferring to put their best product forward in marketing materials.
And Reynolds, while promoting Deadpool, has played coy on the subject.
And while Miller hasn’t publicly said he was behind the leak, numerous sources point to him or one of his colleagues at Blur. I have no smoking-gun proof other than my typically very reliable sources on such matters. But if so, it was a bold move from a filmmaker who had nothing to lose and everything to gain. This was a guy pushing 50, trying to get his first movie made. What was going to happen to him? Be banned from directing movies?
However, one insider insists Miller did not do it, painting him as the kind of person who would come out and say so if he did. This person posits the leak could have originated from emails that were sent to garner the director more work, with links to the footage as a showcase of his talent.
Still, another insider believes the leak was an inside job since, as opposed to years earlier when a Deadpool script leaked online and was regarded as happenstance, this leak had a specific goal of moving the project forward. "A sentiment for years among the Deadpool team was 'If only people could see this,' " says the source. "There was a wish of 'what if we stepped away from our computers and it somehow leaked?' "
If Miller is behind the leak, it would make sense to another person close to the project: "I’ve never come across anyone so determined to make something happen," says this insider of Miller. "He should get a lot, if not the most, credit, for getting this done." It's a refrain I've heard from many.
Now Deadpool, which cost in the $55-million to $60-million range to make, is opening to $132.7 million. It launches a new franchise for Fox and is set to revive Reynolds’ career (not to mention Miller's). The writers already are at work on a sequel.
Thanks to the leak, the risk-averse studio now can take credit for re-energizing the superhero genre. Already, execs at rival studios are wondering what they’ve got on their shelves that can be similar to Deadpool. Now, everyone has a comp.
"It’s not often that someone can say 'I told you so' in this town," says another Deadpool insider, "but these guys definitely get to say that."
by Aaron Couch, Borys Kit