Sam Taylor-Johnson sighed and closed her laptop. She had just released a statement saying that she wished the best for all involved, but would not return to direct the second film in the Fifty Shades Of Grey trilogy, Fifty Shades Darker. She decided to put on her sneakers and go for a run; feeling the damp morning air flowing in and out of her lungs, she began to reflect on where it all went wrong.
It seemed so alluring at first. Helming a multi-million dollar movie that’s all but guaranteed to be a hit, complete with—holy crap—franchise potential? Sam had never felt this way about a project before. Yes, there had been others—like Nowhere Boy, her 2009 biopic about a young John Lennon—but Fifty Shades Of Grey was so attractive. So tortured. So rich.
She saw the warning signs almost immediately, but chose to ignore them. “Why should a movie this high profile have such trouble attracting stars?,” her subconscious hissed. “Even the girl from Game Of Thrones didn’t want to do it, and she does nude scenes all the time.” But blinded by her desire for a heightened profile in Hollywood, and seeing her chance to take this poorly-written erotic Twilight fan fiction and turn it into something sophisticated and winkingly ironic, Sam decided to sign the contract. She could change Fifty Shades Of Grey, she knew it. Her inner goddess did the Macarena.
But then there was the author of the original novel, E.L. James. The studio had given James incredible levels of creative control over the project, including final approval over casting choices ( “#NotMyChristian,” her subconscious quipped) and changes to screenwriter Kelly Marcel’s script. Sam seethed with jealousy. “Fifty Shades Of Grey is mine now,” she thought. “Just because you’re the one who introduced it to the world of sadomasochism and wide-ranging merchandising opportunities doesn’t mean you own it. The studio chose me. Me!” Sam straightened up, tucked a strand of her long blonde hair behind her ear, and spoke.
“The tampon scene has to go,” she said.
The shoot went smoothly, and with each scene Sam’s confidence grew. The tough decisions and personal sacrifices that come with directing a major motion picture could be painful, yes, but when she succumbed in the heat of the moment, the pleasure was sublime. Dizzy with adrenaline, Sam smiled. “I can do this,” she thought. Her inner goddess gave her a thumbs up.
But E.L. would not let go of Fifty Shades Of Grey. She kept interfering with Sam’s vision for the films, and undermined her authority at every turn. “Is this some sort of humiliation play?,” her subconscious asked nervously. Her inner goddess folded her arms and stamped her feet.
Finally, it came time to film the end of the movie. Sam wanted to make a small change to the scene as it played out in E.L.’s book, one that subtly shifted the power dynamic between Ana and Christian and cast the events of the story in a different, and arguably more empowered, light. But E.L., ever the control freak (“That’s why she’s so sadistic,” her subconscious muttered), would not agree to Sam’s request. With slowly growing horror, Sam realized that she could not change Fifty Shades Of Grey, and that, in fact, Fifty Shades Of Grey had changed her.
Sam quickly gathered her things and ran for the elevator. “Sam! Wait! Please, let me explain! This is all I have!,” E.L. cried, running after her. The elevator doors opened, almost as if by magic, just as Sam reached the entrance to the lavish penthouse apartment E.L. had bought with all that Fifty Shades Of Grey money. Sam got in the elevator, catching the briefest glimpse of E.L.’s distraught face as the doors slid closed behind her.
“Red,” Sam Taylor-Johnson said.