Attached to direct since last April, new now arrives via The Wrap that Michael Winterbottom (The Trip) has now walked away from Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert comedy biopic Russ & Roger, citing the usual "creative differences". Will Ferrell (Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy) remains aboard to play Meyer, with Josh Gad (Love & Other Drugs) as his unlikely film critic cohort Ebert.
Simpsons and Saturday Night Live alumnus Christopher Cluess wrote the screenplay – originally titled Russ & Roger Go Beyond – which focuses on the partnership between Meyer and Ebert, leading to the infamous Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970). Winterbottom had been responsible for subsequent rewrites, along with Neil and Rob Gibbons (Alan Partridge).
Ebert was a Meyer admirer from early on. "Russ had a very healthy, go-ahead, unapologetic way of celebrating the female form," he told Meyer's biographer Jimmy McDonough. "I found him to be one of the most fascinating men I ever met. He was smart, funny, extroverted, robust, no bullshit." The pair apparently shared a sense of humour, and a love of movies and food. Plus, said Meyer, "Ebert has that wonderful sickness about him: Bosomania. He's truly a Jekyll and Hyde: we've got to make that clear. He's more debauched than I!"
Having decided to work together on the film Meyer would eventually regard as his masterpiece, they hammered out a treatment in three days, a first draft in three weeks, and the finished screenplay in six. Ebert proudly called Beyond "a camp sexploitation horror musical that ends in quadruple ritual murder and a triple wedding". He went on to contribute, uncredited, to further Meyer projects, but always denied Meyer's claim that he demanded "a girl at the end of every week" as part of his payment. "I did not," he said. "Nor, for that matter, did I get one."
Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls was, uniquely for Meyer, a studio picture for 20th Century Fox, leading to many colourful production battles, not least over its MPAA rating. Russ & Roger then, has the potential to be a hugely entertaining making of yarn, as well as a document of a beautiful friendship.
Production company STX Entertainment are now, obviously, looking for a new director to take over where Winterbottom left off. They are confident that Russ & Roger remains on track to start shooting next March.