Netflix Taps Robert Towne, David Fincher for 'Chinatown' Prequel Script

The pilot will portray the life of private investigator Jake Gittes (previously played by Jack Nicholson) before the events of the iconic 1974 film.
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'Chinatown' (1974)

Hollywood's most famous noir involving shady Los Angeles real estate deals and the city's water department may be returning to screens for a prequel series sometime soon.

Netflix has commissioned Chinatown writer Robert Towne and director David Fincher to pen a prequel pilot script for the iconic 1974 film, sources confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter. Netflix declined to comment. 

The script will focus on the life of private investigator Jake Gittes (played by Jack Nicholson in the original film) before the events of Chinatown as he tackles cases involving L.A.'s one percent, endemic corruption, infrastructure and natural resources. Towne, Fincher and frequent Fincher collaborator Josh Donen (House of Cards, Gone Girl) will executive produce if the prequel script goes to series.

The deal does not determine who will direct a prequel series if it were greenlit. Roman Polanski directed the 1974 film.

Winner for best original screenplay at the 1975 Academy Awards, Chinatown follows private investigator Jake Gittes in 1937 after he is hired by the wife of L.A. Department of Water and Power's chief engineer to follow her husband, whom she suspects of adultery. As he shadows the engineer, Gittes uncovers cascading revelations about corruption and violence in L.A. utilities and politics.

Towne, a native Angeleno, famously wrote Chinatown after reading Carey McWilliams’ Southern California Country: An Island on the Land at the library and viewing a photo essay called "Raymond Chandler's L.A." in West magazine. "Chinatown for me was an acknowledgment that I lived with things I loved but could no longer see — even now if I drive Western [Avenue] around Lomita and Torrance I miss those stinky sloughs and their ratty cattails more than anyone would care to hear," Towne wrote for the Los Angeles Times in 1994.

The screenwriter, who would go on to pen the scripts for Shampoo, Days of Thunder and The Firm, struggled to write the original screenplay, which took him about 10 months and a trip to Catalina Island, he later recalled. There is no word yet on the due date for the Netflix project.

An avowed fan of the 1974 film, Fincher most recently expressed his love for Chinatown in a 2016 commentary track with Towne for a Blu-ray version of the pic. The director has worked selectively but consistently for Netflix since 2013, when he debuted House of Cards — which he executive produced and occasionally directed — on the platform. Since House of Cards, Fincher has executive produced the serial killer drama Mindhunter and the animated short story collection Love, Death & Robots for the platform.

Deadline was the first to report the news.