The chronicle behind the film
Initially, "Mulholland Dr." was to mark David Lynch's return to television. It is a retooling of a script originally shot as a 94-minute pilot for a TV series (co-written with TV screenwriter Joyce Eliason) for the channel ABC, which had approved the script, but chose not even to air the pilot once it was done in 1999, despite Lynch's labours to cut the project to their liking. It was left in limbo until 18 month later French company Studio Canal Plus (also producer of 'The Straight Story') agreed to pay ABC $7 million for the pilot, and budget a few million more to turn the pilot into a two-hour, 27-minute movie. The cost of the film doubled to $14 million as sets had to be reconstructed and actors recalled.
Lynch's Picture Factory joined with Imagine Television in association with Touchstone Television to produce a two-hour ABC pilot titled "Mulholland Drive." ABC passed on it for the fall 99 season. The reason was due to the violence in the pilot (the decision came in the wake of the Colorado shootings). With all the political pressure out now for Hollywood to clean things up it seems ABC got scared and passed on it. Lynch told Premiere magazine, "All I know is, I loved making it, ABC hated it, and I don't like the cut I turned in. I agreed with ABC that the longer cut was too slow, but I was forced to butcher it because we had a deadline, and there wasn't time to finesse anything. It lost texture, big scenes, and storylines, and there are 300 tape copies of the bad version circulating around. Lots of people have seen it, which is embarrassing, because they're bad-quality tapes, too. I don't want to think about it."
The day after receiving the script, Jamie Tarses and Stu Bloomberg, who is co-chairman of ABC Entertainment Television Group, called Tony Krantz to green-light production. "They were giddy with excitement," Krantz recalls. Steve Tao said, "It's one of the fastest scripts we've ever read – we could see it." ABC would eventually order pilots for seven dramatic series for the fall season, and the network expected to find room on its schedule for three or four. "Mulholland Drive" looked to be a shoo-in.
But the executives did wonder how the seemingly unconnected scenes and characters would be tied together. Lynch's scripts, dense with dream images, don't gather up loose ends and sweep to a close; instead, they jump around and then break off, as if jarred by an alarm clock. Although this strangeness was a selling point, it was also a cause for concern. "There's a very fine balance between intriguing people and confusing people," Steve Tao said.
And so, two weeks after ordering the pilot episode, Bloomberg and Tarses summoned about twenty people from the network, Imagine, and Lynch's production company to meet in ABC's conference room. At "notes meetings" like this one, networks begin to put their stamp on a show, analyzing everything from the characters' morals to their hair styles. Most executives believe that television shows – unlike movies, which people actively seek out – are watched passively by a tired and fickle audience; and so stories should move quickly and clearly, and characters' problems should engender immediate sympathy. "The secret is to have a character who is very relatable, whom you root for," Jamie Tarses says. "And the rest is how you dress it up."
Steve Tao told me, "David was very collaborative. I had a list of twenty questions. He said, 'I'm not going to answer that, but it's a good question.' Next? 'I'm not going to answer that, but it's a good question.' Next? 'I know that answer, and you're not going to learn it now.' At least I knew he was thinking about our concerns."
Lynch didn't relish the scrutiny, however. "David is willing to attend something like that meeting as a gesture of cooperation," Mary Sweeney says, "but he believes that questions about motivation are not pertinent." Lynch himself says, "A lot of times, I just didn't know what the answer was going to be, and I was covering up so that I wouldn't worry them."
When they turned down the Pilot
Production began in February 1998 on the Paramount Studios lot, and by May 1998, Lynch had completed a 125-minute version of Mulholland Dr. In June 1998, Lynch was notified that ABC would not pick up the pilot and was not interested in producing a series based on Lynch’s story. According to a Sep/Oct 2001 article in Film Comment, the network felt that the pilot was too dark, slow and confusing.
[...] Krantz had heard rumors that ABC would not pick up the pilot, but he still hoped that the network would select the show for midseason, the way it had done with "Twin Peaks." "It's going to be a pass," Tao told him. "I'm sorry." Krantz immediately phoned Lynch. "They don't want it," Krantz said "They don't want it for fall, and they don't want it for spring." "I see," Lynch said. Later, Krantz told me, "I think David was surprised. He's an artist. And when someone tells you, "The thing you love, we don't love; we don't value your inner life' – that's very personal."
When the show's cast and crew learned of its demise, they were outraged. Justin Theroux had turned down a chance to be in "Wasteland" in order to work with Lynch on "Mulholland Drive." Yet he believes that he chose well, because he learned a salutary contempt for how television shows are chosen. "I want to say that the people at ABC are terrible, awful, heinous people who kiss up to you when they think you might be a star and then drop you like a hot turd when they decide you won't be," he said. "But really they're just terribly frightened people who want to keep their jobs by giving audiences what they want. The audience testing that the networks do is in Middle America, and I picture these men and women who spend their time in McDonald's and bent over slot machines being brought into a room in a mall to watch David Lynch and turn up their knobs if they like it. Those knobs are going to be arrow-headed to the ground. On that basis, ABC assumes that America wants 'Wasteland' and not 'Mulholland Drive,' which means that they assume America is stupid. The sad thing is they're probably right."
A few weeks later, I visited Lynch at home, in his woodshop. I asked him how he felt about ABC's rejection. He pushed his index fingers against his lower lip and remained in a brown study for a full two minutes. He rose and hit the intercom to request a cup of coffee, sat and thought for thirty seconds more, and finally said, "At a certain point, you realize you're in with the wrong people. Their thinking process is very foreign to me. They like a fast pace and a linear story, but you want your creations to come out of you, and be distinctive. I feel it's possibly true that there are aliens on earth, and they work in television."
David Lynch on how it turned into a feature
"So along came Pierre Edelman (Studio Canal Plus) and Pierre asked me if he could see this pilot and I had a heartache because I didn't like the pilot and I said no at first but he asked me again and I said okay Pierre. And he saw something in the pilot that he really liked. And one thing let to another and the opportunity arose for it to become a feature. And then I had a couple of weeks a feel of panic because I didn't have ideas to close it. And one night sitting down in my chair the ideas unraveled like a string and it came to me a way to do it. And it was a most beautiful experience. Everything was seen from a different angle. Everything was then restructured, and we did additional shooting. Now, looking back, I see that [the film] always wanted to be this way. It just took this strange beginning to cause it to be what it is." »related video clip (0.5 MB)
"[…] Since this started out to be a television pilot which doesn't have an ending, an ending had to come somehow. And I didn't have any ideas for this ending. And one night, I sat down in a chair, and I closed my eyes, and ideas came. It's all ideas. So, the ideas came, and then I knew what it was. Now, these ideas that came, weren't just for the ending. They were for the beginning and the middle and the end, a whole shifting. Then we went back and shot for several more weeks to finish the film that needed an ending because it was not a TV show anymore. But ideas came one night, from 6:30 to 7:00, in they came." »related video interview
On how the TV-show would have continued
I just remember him [Lynch] saying that it would be a series of mysteries that spun out of each other and would never have a conclusion, unlike 'Twin Peaks'. He was very upset that Laura's killer had to be named and said he would not let that happen again.
Adam and Betty would embark on the affair indicated by the sparks ignited by their first brief meeting. More intriguingly, during the first year of the show the life-paths of two female leads would cross, the noir elements of the plot absorbing Betty as she was sucked into Rita's dark world while the mystery girl herself would find redemption. And, in response to politely insistent queries, Lynch promised that when Rita's identity was finally revealed it would only open up other mysteries.
Weirdsville USA: Obsessive Universe of David Lynch
Laney, the mysterious homeless character (prostitute) would get revealed throughout the series and come to a grande finale when the big secret is unfolded.
In an interview with Chris Rodley Lynch says that MD has become simpler as a movie (as a love story) than it was supposed to become as a series. He is grateful to ABC to have killed the project because it has given him the opportunity to change completely his point of view about the MD story. It is clear that esthetically speaking the love story is so beautiful that the remaining of the story is not necessary. - (gandalf36)
One scene filmed for the pilot but cut from the film was a phone call from Adam to Wilkins asking if he could stay at Wilkin's place for a while. Wilkins lived at Havenhurst so Adam would've been a neighbor to Betty and Rita in the series. - (somethingbad)
Thread: MD-The Series - (psf)
Scene-by-scene comparison of non-aired Pilot (1999) and final Feature (2001)