Marvel Studios may have a bigger problem than it originally thought. Last week, it was widely reported that Samuel L. Jackson's screenplay for The Avengers had been stolen in Burbank, and was offered up for sale to a few movie bloggers and online pundits.
Those individuals, of course, turned down the offer but made it quite public that the latest draft of this screenplay was on the loose. Unverified reports soon followed that Marvel Studios had halted production on The Avengers so that certain scenes could be rewritten.
There has never been an official statement from Marvel Studios saying that production has stopped on this massive undertaking. Sources close to The Avengers say that director Joss Whedon and his motley crew are rolling along as planned. Chris Hemsworth, who plays Thor, had this to say over the weekend about the whole incident.
"I haven't received any phone calls about it. My start date is still the same. I think it was a pretty old script, though. I got off the plane the other day and I found that out, but I know that script changed a lot, so it's not the most recent version of it anyway."
The script in question was watermarked with Samuel L. Jackson's name, the verified working title Group Hug, and a last draft date of April 8th, 2011. Which isn't that long ago, but Chris Hemsworth is right, a new draft could have easily been penned in under a month's time.
The question becomes, "What happened to this script and the people that stole it?" Well, we can confirm that cheaply Xeroxed copies of what appears to be this exact stolen screenplay, first reported on by Obsessed with Film, have started to appear alongside bootleg DVDs sold by street vendors in downtown Los Angeles.
As authorities crack down on piracy and illegal DVD bootlegs, and as 3D makes it harder for pirates to get clean copies of some of today's biggest blockbuster releases, it looks like illegal street vendors are now getting a jump on any major release's theatrical window by offering up a bootleg of the latest Hollywood screenplay.
How long has this been going on? Its hard to say. The vendors are getting more cautious about who they sell to and when they do their selling. Traveling down to Santee Alley on a quiet Wednesday afternoon, a shopping area in the Fashion District of Los Angeles that is not unlike Mos Eisley (a hive of scum and villainy), you can easily spot these illegal DVD vendors as they hurriedly unroll a blanket, toss out any number of new releases, let you take a quick look, and then roll up their blanket and move onto the next block. They never stay in one place for more than ten minutes, and they seem quite nervous about their whole operation. As they should be.
Late yesterday afternoon, an associate who works in the area reported that he saw a Mexican man in his mid-thirties, who was traveling with his blanket of bootleg DVDS, pulling scripts out of his backpack and attempting to sell them. I never have luck with bootleggers myself, as they are too cautious of me. I guess I look too much like an under cover cop. So I sent my friend David, who works at a pot dispensary in the neighborhood, down the street to see if he could verify that these bootleggers were indeed selling stolen scripts, early this morning.
After talking with a few shady individuals, David found the man in question, who was pleased to offer up bootlegs of The Green Hornet, Hobo with a Shotgun, and Thor on DVD, amongst others. When David asked about the screenplays, the man, who did not speak very good English, only said this.
"You like movie? $10."
He then proceeded to pull out not only the script for The Avengers, but he also had the script for Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, and Marvel's Captain America: The First Avenger.
David verified that The Avengers script, though printed on cheap paper that looked like as though it had been run through a vintage photocopy machine, had the title Group Hug, and was watermarked with Samuel L. Jackson's name. He didn't make a purchase, but he did flip through the pages, and it looked like it could have been a script for The Avengers, as he recognized many of the characters names inside. But its hard to say if it was the actual shooting script. Of note, the Django Unchained screenplay did not have Quentin Tarantino's signature handwritten cover page. David didn't bother to look at Captain America: The First Avenger, as he didn't want to hang out with the man selling illegal DVDs and stolen scripts for too long.
Who knows how long this trend will last? It's certainly unclear how selling old drafts of screenplays on a shady street corner will affect Hollywood, if at all. It certainly is unique for tourists visiting, who get a neat souvenir for venturing down to such a colorful part of town. Is it bad to report these things? Obsessed with Film came under fire for posting pictures of the screenplay, with certain movie bloggers saying that they should have gone to the authorities or the studio instead of writing a story about it.
In David's case, the man with the illegal DVDs and screenplays was gone seconds after Dave declined the purchase. And the cops are well aware of what is being sold down in Santee Alley. And sure, The Avengers script was reportedly stolen, which is very bad business. But many of today's most prominent film bloggers have bragged this week that Django Unchained was found in their email inbox. Of course copies of it are going to be swimming around all over the place. Does Quentin Tarantino care that his screenplay is being sold for profit on the streets of downtown Los Angeles? It seems like he should. But maybe he doesn't. How will that change, if at all, how he shoots the final movie?
I personally can't see too much money being made off an illegal screenplay. It's a niche market at best, and those serious about securing the latest big time Hollywood script can, if we are to believe various sources on Twitter, get these screenplays off the Internet without having to take a trip down to Santee Alley.
What I seriously hope this is leading up to, though, is a Sweded version of the 04/08/11 draft of The Avengers, performed by the Home Depot Parking Lot Players, and sold this Christmas as the ultimate advanced DVD bootleg. Now that, I would buy. And I bet The Asylum is already two steps ahead of me.
You wants a 10% off coupon for The Avengers screenplay? Anyone? (Just kidding.)