How Martin Scorsese Saved 'The Current War' After The Weinstein Co. Collapse

Martin Scorsese, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon Split - Getty - H 2019
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After two years of uncertainty, the film starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon was rescued by 101 Studios and scheduled for release, a development that allowed director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon to activate a clause in his contract to bring in Scorsese to help with the final cut.

When The Weinstein Co. collapsed in the aftermath of sexual misconduct allegations against its co-founder Harvey Weinstein, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon never thought his historical drama The Current War would see the light of day. And then came along an unlikely savior: Martin Scorsese.

Gomez-Rejon had been given final cut rights to his film in his contract with The Weinstein Co., but if in the event there was a disagreement between the director and the studio on the version to be released, they agreed on having Scorsese decide the final version.

"That one extra safety net should things not go well, or should my final cut or my cutting rights not be respected, was including Scorsese as an executive producer so that if we start battling it out with the studio, he would be final arbitrator and would get final cut," Gomez-Rejon tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I said 'absolutely,' and Scorsese accepted, which was incredibly generous of him."

Even with the contract, the director never thought he'd need to call on Scorsese, for whom he had worked as a personal assistant early in his career. "It wasn’t a favor I wanted to call on him for, but he was generous enough to offer it himself, should things get ugly. And then it did get ugly," he says. 

The Current War: Director's Cut, made for $25 million, stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison and Michael Shannon as George Westinghouse, in a drama that follows the race between the two pioneers of electricity to illuminate the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. It debuted at the 2017 Toronto Film Festival to underwhelming reviews

After The Weinstein Co. shuttered and its slate of films fell into a state of uncertainty, Gomez-Rejon says "it was unsettling to think that I had a film that was unfinished, that was somehow locked somewhere as a bank asset." And then earlier this year, the filmmaker read in trade publications that David Glasser's 101 Studios would make its debut distribution with The Current War, and quickly realized he had a second chance for the release of his film. 

"Luckily because of that clause, we realized legally the movie was never finished because Scorsese never had his final cut, that was part of the contract that had never been honored," Gomez-Rejon explains. "As soon as Scorsese was notified that the film had been saved and it was now his legal right to rework the film and make it his final cut, all he did was give it back to me as the director of the film ... it was because of that clause, he was able to save my movie and not take it over but to hand it to me, and let me realize the vision I had in my head without the chaos I had been living with for the last couple of years."

Once an October 2019 release date was set for the long-gestating film, Scorsese then helped guide Gomez-Rejon with his revision of the film's final cut. 

"We were never in the cutting room together, but I would show him a cut and get his thoughts," the filmmaker says. Instead, he set up camp in a hotel room next to Scorsese's office, and Scorsese sent his long-time editor Thelma Schoonmaker to help assist with the final cut of the film. 

"Scorsese was there in spirit through Thelma ... his notes were amazing," Gomez-Rejon says. "Scorsese knows how films speak to you and have lives of their own, and sometimes you make one little change that’ll offset the other six notes that followed."

The filmmaker outlines two specific scenes that Scorsese helped to craft. One was to keep a series of Civil War flashbacks featuring Shannon's Westinghouse, which was initially left on the cutting room floor. 

"There was always a push to eliminate them from the film, and [Scorsese] fought to keep them in and find the resources because we had to do some de-aging on Michael Shannon," he says. "Yes, it's about electricity but it's really about ego versus humility and ambition and legacy and that was incredibly important to me."

And then there's a scene between Tom Fisher's Southwick Brown asking Cumberbatch's Edison to advise on the electric chair, which Gomez-Rejon had initially centered through Cumberbatch's point of view.

"I had a series of impressionistic cuts of how [Cumberbatch] was perceived in the moment, and [Scorsese] asked me to try one more time without any of that and just holding on the two performances, and I did, and of course it was thousand times better because it was a lot more tense and haunting with the stillness of it all," he says. 

The Current War, which also stars Tom Holland, Nicholas Hoult and Tuppence Middleton, opened in 1,022 theaters over the weekend but failed to find much wattage in its modest nationwide release, grossing an estimated $2.7 million and placing 9th at the domestic box office. The film banked respectable numbers in major markets on both coasts, but lagged elsewhere. It averages a 58 percent rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. 

“It's certainly a strong showing of support to the filmmakers and talent that worked on The Current War to commit the resources and expense of marketing the film and distributing the film in theaters despite the unlikely chance of a huge box office result," Comscore analyst Paul Dergarabedian tells THR. "Sometimes the goodwill generated by such a strategy is a stronger currency than sheer dollars and cents, and it's nice to see that kind of devotion to both the movie itself and the recognition of the big screen movie theater experience as an essential part of the film's release.”

For Gomez-Rejon, just getting to release the film is a relief, and he praises Scorsese for making it happen. 

"This has been an unusual journey, even for unusual Hollywood stories," he says. "This was surreal and traumatic and the fact that it has a final chapter, it’s just a triumph for so many of us that worked on the movie, and I owe it to him."

Additional reporting by Pamela McClintock