FIFTY SHADES DARKER
About The Production
Dark Side of the Fairy Tale:
Fans of E L James' novels and of the smash motion-picture adaptation of "Fifty
Shades of Grey" were elated with the announcement that the next two novels in
the series would similarly receive big-screen treatment...even sooner than
expected. Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed would be lensed
simultaneously, resulting in two successive Valentine's Day weekend releases in
2017 and '18 (and truncating the wait between films to one year).
While the next two chapters would further explore the compelling romantic tango
of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, all connected to the series were
committed to the idea of each episode serving as a unique experience. The team
felt it vital to satisfy diehard fans as well as draw in new audiences to the
erotic, authentic pop-culture and entertainment events.
Producer Dana Brunetti discusses that it was long the intention to explore the
decidedly dangerous turn E L James' second novel takes: "Fifty Shades Darker is
more of a thriller. We have suspense, stalking, helicopter crashes...all in
addition to the theme of this couple and their particular type of romance.
Suddenly, their relationship is confronted with many more obstacles than
previously, a lot of them from Christian's past life."
E L James, who is rejoined by her fellow producers from 2015's Fifty Shades of
Grey, reflects on the title progression: "For the second novel, I knew I wanted
to keep 'Fifty Shades,' because it was quite memorable. I thought, 'Where are we
going with this?' Then, I knew that in the second book that we would discover
what was behind Christian's darkness. Hence, 'Darker.'"
De Luca found it difficult to believe it has only been a few years since he,
Brunetti, Viscidi and E L James began work on bringing the first book to the big
screen. "Taking this journey with Erika and my other fellow producers has been
surreal at times," reflects the producer. "We managed to take what was already a
literary phenomenon and bring it to worldwide audiences over Valentine's Day
weekend in 2015, and here we are again. We have all grown considerably in these
roles and never stopped being the caretakers for Anastasia and Christian's
story. It's something we don't take lightly, and my hat stays off to Erika for
keeping us on track as we imagined this filmic world for her characters to
inhabit. I'm extraordinarily proud of how far we've all come."
For the adaptations, production went back to the source: E L James herself,
working with the writer who had lived with the characters-and their
creator-since the beginning-E L James' husband, accomplished screenwriter Niall
Leonard, whose task it was to translate these massively popular novels with
their bold new emblems of mainstream sensuality into two screenplays.
The journey from print on-demand paperback to the creation of one of the most
iconic and memorable literary sensations in decades was as shocking to their
family as it was to publishers. "I retain that role as the person who is the
first sounding board, so, 'Fifty Shades' crept up on me," Leonard muses. "Erika
was publishing a story, and I knew it was interesting and dark. I knew that it
was gathering an online following, but even so, when it burst into life in the
real world, it astounded me how big the phenomenon was."
As the family grew adjusted to E L James' skyrocketing fame, as well as the
filmic reception of "Fifty Shades of Grey," they focused their attention on
assuring the purity of the subsequent books' translations. "For Darker and
Freed," Leonard continues, "she was keen that the movies had to be done quickly
and that they had to be close to the books. Knowing the story and the fandom, I
was very familiar with the parts that mean a lot to Erika and to her fans. I was
keen to see those properly included. With experience as an adapter and
screenwriter, I felt qualified to take on the project. The studio was willing to
have me onboard to take these enormous, sprawling novels and condense them into
something that was of movie length...without losing any of the relationship and
the important parts that fans really wanted to see."
E L James is the first to admit that it was an unexpected and unusual
collaboration in bringing her Christian and Ana to life in another medium. "It
was an interesting time while Niall was writing," she reflects. "He would go off
and do his thing, and then he'd bring me a draft and ask, 'What do you think?'
Then, we'd have discussions until we were ready to submit it to the studio." In
her typical dry fashion, the author adds: "He was very private about it, but
we're still speaking to each other. So that it worked out well."
Leonard offers that knowing your spouse will be your editor is a curious thing
indeed. "I was quite nervous. Then I heard her laughing in the next room, and I
thought, 'Okay, I'm off the hook; she's enjoying it. We got over that first
hurdle of her accepting my work. Then, we had to work together revising it.
Sometimes, we'd have a bit of a ding-dong about particular scenes, and I'd say,
'I really want to do this,' and she'd respond, 'That's not true to the story.'"
To be certain, the screenwriter promised the creator of his source material one
thing before they began adaptations. "If it ever came down to the crunch, it was
always to be her decision," Leonard says. "Christian Grey is not this cutesy,
handsome, all-things-to-all character. He's dominant, dangerous and a real
challenge. His journey into being rescued by Ana is a tricky one, and the only
person for this is Erika. She knows every step, and is the North Star. If you
follow her lead, you can't go wrong."
The litany of reasons behind filming both chapters in the same period were clear
to all involved. Naturally, with films that are successive stories, characters
and environments are common to both-with actors in character, production up and
running, and sets and locations primed for shooting. Economically, it made sense
to maximize effort and time. Viscidi reflects: "We also had other reasons that
were more important than strictly the financial ones-for the actors and director
James Foley, to have both scripts and to understand where their characters and
stories begin and end. It made it a more fluid process throughout the whole
When he made the decision to take the director's chair for both films, Foley
joined the rarified ranks of very few directors who have maximized time and
effort by filming back-to-back projects. Brunetti discusses the process in
finding the one who'd captain the team: "When we were determining who the next
director was going to be, there was speculation on whether we were going to
shoot Darker or Darker and Freed at the same time. I knew James from House of
Cards, as he directed a majority of the first season and was our show director/showrunner."
Not only was Brunetti a fan of Foley's work for Netflix, he has long enjoyed
many of the filmmaker's features. "Glengarry Glen Ross is one of my favorites.
We met with him, and his thoughts on the film were fantastic," says the
producer. "We saw a lot of different directors after that for Darker and made a
short list. Then, when we began to discuss making both films at the same time, I
knew that is how we shot a lot of House of Cards-two episodes at a time, and we
would cross-board them. I pushed for James, not just because of his experience
shooting this way, but because of his understanding of the books and take on
what the films should be."
Viscidi agrees with the decision to which fellow producers De Luca, E L James
and Brunetti arrived: "We needed someone of that caliber who could direct the
actors in a strong, confident and accomplished style. In the first meeting with
Foley, he said he wanted to expand and open up the film. He appreciated the
first movie-thought it was good, sexy and provocative-but wanted the characters
to be more a part of the real world, get them outside more in the next chapter.
He wanted to see Seattle more, and have the characters interact more with the
world around them."
Foley discusses his interest in joining the franchise: "'Fifty Shades' defied a
genre; it's full of elements, drama, romance, fantasy, all mixed together. It is
a special kind of combination-a special kind of brew-like you brew beer. It's
has its own fizz."
No stranger to adapting lauded work, the filmmaker felt a connection with the
protagonists of E L James' work. He reflects: "I've always been interested in
psychological realism-movies, dramas that have a psychological complexity to
them. What I got from the three books was that they were a master study in the
field-particularly of Christian but also of Ana. There was something interesting
in the journey that they took together, and how each of these psychologies
interacted with each other and wind up changing each of them over the course of
the three books quite dramatically. It was that evolution in their selves which
was the most important thing to me."
The relationship quickly established by director and author/producer was soon
harmonic. "Erika was very clear about the arc of the story and how she wanted
Christian and Ana's characters to develop between the two films," observes
Viscidi. "James was able to take that information, turn it around and implement
it in his vision. It was a great working relationship, and Erika trusted him
implicitly from day one."
Foley addresses one of the key elements of working with E L James-indeed, one of
the key elements of any successful film production-when he says, "It's been the
sweetest thing-we were pals throughout the process. There was compromise-I
compromised, she compromised-but the film was not compromised. We got the best
combination of our talent. I was very respectful of the books-they have their
own kind of magic that worked on so many people. I sought to transfer that magic
to the screen, and having her around was great. Erika was very supportive and
"James Foley stepped into the Fifty Shades Darker production almost as if he'd
been with us since day one," says De Luca. "He brought this deep respect-not
only to the cast and crew who'd been part of the first production-but an honor
for Erika's source material and Niall's distinctive, significantly darker take
on the next two pivotal chapters. Foley is the consummate filmmaker and
gentleman, and the exact right filmmaker to bring innovative ideas about what
Darker and Freed could become. He has this ability to elevate our production to
a level none of us could have expected."
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