David Aaron Gray

"Don't believe everything 
you hear on the radio"
- Charles Foster Kane

David Aaron Gray (Blog)

Why It Took 13 Years To Make the Movie 'Lincoln'

Posted by davidaarongray on October 15, 2013 at 5:50 AM

The concept for, what would become Steven Spielberg’s Oscar worthy film, Lincoln, was officially born way back in September 1999 when the acclaimed director heard that historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin was writing a book about the 16th President of the United States. Spielberg immediately told her he wanted the film rights and DreamWorks finalized the deal in 2001.

After numerous attempts to create an appealing screenplay (hiring and firing multiple writers), Spielberg announced that filming was set to begin in January 2006.

ABOVE: Goodwin's Team of Rivals which Spielberg and DreamWorks so badly coveted

However, due to countless disagreements between DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures over distribution, it was not until, May 2008 that Spielberg announced a revised intention to start filming in early 2009, for release in November of that year (just in time to close out the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth).

As we all know, the movie was not released in November 2009 – thanks, in part to two significant setbacks:

The first was not just another rewrite of the script, but the hiring of yet another screenwriter. Spielberg fired almost as many screenwriters for Lincoln the movie as Generals of the Union Army that were dismissed by Lincoln the President.

If writer, Paul Webb, was General McClellan (a man who could win battles but not “The War”;) than his replacement, Tony Kushner would become General U.S. Grant (doubting his own abilities after initial criticism but resilient enough to stay the course until final victory).

DreamWorks relieved Paul Webb of command over the Lincoln script in late 2008, due to Webb’s attempt to chronicle the entirety of Lincoln’s life, which Spielberg and consultant, Doris Kearns Goodwin, decided was too much material to jam into a feature film.

Even when all parties agreed that the new screenplay would be centered on just a few months during Lincoln’s presidency, writer Tony Kushner’s original draft of over 550 pages needed to be substantially shortened (even by Spielberg's page quantity standards.

After months of revisions, Kushner’s shortened screenplay was completed and approved in early 2010. LEE HAS SURRENDERED...HURRAY!!!

Not so fast...

Before Spielberg could say “ACTION” his leading man, Liam Neeson (who had been preparing for the role of Lincoln since he was casted in 2005) quit the project due to personal reasons (his wife having passed away less than a year earlier).

ABOVE: The closet Lincoln like character (in terms of physical appearance) I could find played by Liam.

The search for an adequate alternative for Neeson caused another full year of delays.

It was not until November 2010, that Spielberg announced that Daniel Day-Lewis would replace Mr. Neeson.

Wait...hold on a second there Steven...   Daniel Day-Lewis was Plan B?   Look, I get that directors get attached to some actors (especially after one of them nails the role of Oscar Schindler and immortalizes you in the pages of cinematic history).  That said, if I were Steven Spielberg, and I could pick any actor to play the leading role in my next movie (male or female) it would be DDL all the way.  

Come to think of it, Daniel Day-Lewis should have been Spielberg's first choice to play every leading character in his filmography. And I'm not limiting that statement to Abraham Lincoln.

I am fairly certain that DDL could have outdone Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones and Tom Hanks as Captain Miller in Saving Private Ryan. He certainly would have done a better job as ET than...well...ET and given enough time, he would have played a much more convincing and terrifying Jaws than that mechanical fish.

ABOVE: Either one could be on the $5 dollar bill and no one would bat an eye.

As a side note, the two choices to play the part of the greatest American President in history were not American at all. Both Neeson and Day-Lewis were born and raised in the United Kingdom. So, despite what the Constitution says, you can in fact “act” as President of the United States if born in another country.

Now, if there is one thing people know about Daniel Day-Lewis, it is the intense preparation he brings to each and every character he portrays on the screen. And since this approach had garnered him two Academy Awards for Best Actor, Spielberg was willing to give his new leading man the months required to essentially transform into the real President Lincoln.

By the time, Daniel Day-Lewis no longer responded to any name other than “Mr. President,” filming finally commenced in early 2012, lasting only three months despite shooting at 19 different set locations.

On September 4, 2012, DreamWorks and Google Play announced on the film's Facebook page that they would release the trailer for the film on Google+ on September 13, 2012.

In an effort to avoid disrupting the 2012 Presidential election race, Lincoln was ultimately released in theaters on November 9, 2012; just over 13 years from the day Spielberg expressed interest in making the film.

For a bit of perspective, President Lincoln only served as Commander in Chief for 4 years and in the 13 years it took to complete Lincoln, Spielberg directed 12 feature length movies and produced an astonishing 50 total film and television projects.

Spielberg’s Lincoln, holds the record for the longest amount of time an Academy Award nominated  film took to produce. True to form, Spielberg actually broke his own record in this category - just edging out Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List which both took over 11 years to produce (but gave him two additional Oscars for Best Director).

Categories: Fun Film Facts

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