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‘Surfer’: Make it gnarly

Special to The Times

Feeling bullish on the eve of the release of its “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” Fox has already put a feature spinoff into development that will star the enigmatic Surfer, with J. Michael Straczynski currently crafting the screenplay.

Despite lackluster reviews, the first “Fantastic Four” raked in $329 million worldwide, apparently a result of its appeal to younger viewers. So the sequel, which opens Friday with a story by John Turman and Mark Frost and a screenplay by Frost and “Simpsons” writer Don Payne, has skewed its tone even softer. This has resulted in a PG rating, which has provoked a disgusted outcry from fans online who churlishly point out that even Harry Potter is now too gritty for 11-year-olds.

They may have a point, given that this film ostensibly features a Christ-like harbinger of doom like the Surfer and Galactus, a God-like destroyer of worlds whose rep may be a little inflated. Reports from the project’s development indicate that the producers kept trying to purge Galactus entirely from early versions of the screenplay.

Well, perhaps the studio has heard the negative static, since it apparently hopes to spin the new Surfer franchise in a darker direction to attract the slightly older demographic of its X-Men films. If so, Straczynski, whose original screenplay “The Changeling” is on director Clint Eastwood’s slate, is a logical pick for the Surfer story line.

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A longtime writer of television science fiction on “The Twilight Zone” and “Babylon 5,” Straczynski has also spent much of the last few years writing for Marvel Comics on properties like “Amazing Spider-Man” and “Thor” (also in development with a Mark Protosevich screenplay and “Layer Cake’s” Matthew Vaughn reportedly negotiating to direct). Straczynski recently penned 15 issues of Fantastic Four for Marvel, and the first issue of his “Silver Surfer: Requiem” series just published last month, with three more in the works.

Seems like Straczynski’s on the rise too.

Hey, WGA: Is reality overrated?

Thursday night, the Writers Guild hosted another of its semiannual screenwriter receptions, this time in honor of its summer movie scribes, who assembled at the swank Viceroy hotel in Santa Monica. Amid the good-natured back-patting, industry small talk and passable hors d’oeuvres was at least one in-depth conversation about the upcoming contract negotiations between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP) that highlighted a fissure in the membership’s solidarity.

It sounds like the WGA’s attempt to nail down jurisdiction over reality television writers is not only a nonstarter for the AMPTP, the studios’ and networks’ negotiating arm, but is also lacking support within the guild membership at large.

The WGA included the reality TV provision in its must-have, 25-plank pattern of demands last month. But while the striking writing staff of “America’s Next Top Model” prompted support from the guild’s membership (and earned them a standing ovation at the WGA awards) last year because of its principled stance, it’s quite another thing to ask everyone else to walk off film and TV sets for their cause.

Especially when many feature writers and TV showrunners have a decidedly condescending view of the “writing” that goes into shows as insipid as “The Biggest Loser.” As voiced last week, the attitude of some members is: “If it comes up for a strike vote and that reality plank is still there? Forget it.”

The guild’s three-year contract expires Oct. 31. Negotiations begin July 16.

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A collective writes ‘Book of Secrets’

Even the Declaration of Independence went through rewrites, with the original “Committee of Five” breaking the story, Jefferson writing the first draft and Franklin doing a polish. Of course they did it for decidedly less than the millions of dollars the Committee of Four is getting to write “National Treasure: Book of Secrets,” the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced sequel to the $173-million-grossing action adventure/history lesson.

Gregory Poirier (“Tomcats,” “Gossip”) was the first writer on the project, but then two high-profile writing teams -- Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, and Cormac and Marianne Wibberley -- petitioned the Writers Guild for a waiver that would allow them to work together on the project and be treated as a quartet.

The four screenwriters -- as card-carrying members of Bruckheimer’s stable of go-to scribes -- suspected that they eventually would be brought in to write and/or rewrite each other on the film anyway. The Wibberleys, who co-wrote “Bad Boys II,” “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” and “I Spy,” co-wrote the first “National Treasure,” while Rossio and Elliott have been Bruckheimer’s golden guns on the “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy. So they decided to create a small collective that could freely and actively collaborate to replace the de facto serial collaboration that occurs when the traditional rewrite process is engaged.

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All four writers have had an intermittent presence on set, and though the Wibberleys have definitive ownership of the “Book of Secrets” screenplay, Rossio and Elliott helped formulate the story, threw in key plot points (like an audacious kidnapping) and reappeared periodically to do revisions. How this unique arrangement could play out during a potential WGA credit arbitration is unclear, though it seems that Elliott & Rossio and the Wibberleys have agreed on a shared story credit with the Wibberleys keeping the sole screenplay credit.

Scriptland is a weekly feature on the work and professional lives of screenwriters. Please e-mail any tips or comments to fernandez_jay@hotmail.com.


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