ByEleanor Tremeer, writer at
MP staff. I talk about Star Wars a lot. Sometimes I'm paid for it. More ramblings on Twitter @ExtraTremeerial
Eleanor Tremeer

It's difficult to pinpoint what's the most controversial part of the immense pop culture phenomenon that is Fifty Shades of Grey, but author EL James definitely hasn't shied away from creating scandal. From her humble beginnings as a (notorious) fanfic writer, EL James has ridden the fame train hard, and seems determined to retain as much control as she can over Fifty Shades Darker. While reportedly miserable for anyone involved in creating the films, James' quest for dominance makes for very entertaining news for us mere mortals who enjoy watching the Fifty Shades franchise explode.

In the run up to Fifty Shades Darker's eventual release, we've had plenty of juicy stories from the set, as screenwriters and director alike flee the scene. So just what has EL James done to scare off the creative team? Well grab some popcorn and relax, cos we're gonna break down how EL James managed to piss off everyone from her fellow fanfic writers to Sam Taylor-Johnson and the rest of the Fifty Shades team...

Humble Beginnings

It's not easy being a fan of the The Twilight Saga books. You wade through years and years of sexual build up, and then you finally get just one measly sex scene (and a pretty disturbing one at that). What's the solution? Fanfiction of course! And by fanfiction, we of course mean trope-y erotica. As far as the Twilight fandom goes, porn really was the name of the game, and of course we all know that's where EL James' epic saga began. But what you probably don't know is that it was almost entirely a rip off of another fic, according to another writer within the community...

"A lot of people here are saying it's ripping off Secretary, but it's not. It's ripping off another really popular Twilight AH-AU called "The Submissive", written by TaraSueMe. It was the first very popular BDSM Twilight fic (and frankly, so much better). Just about everything in her books is derivative... and not derivative of other media, and not even just derivative of Twilight, but directly derivative of other Twilight fanfics."

Fanfic plagiarism isn't such a big deal (though it is a dick move). But for EL James, it was just the beginning of her contentious journey to fame. Soon enough, the insanely popular Fifty Shades Of Grey book got the green light to take Hollywood by storm, and EL James retained a large amount of creative control.

Creative Differences

By now, Sam Taylor-Johnson's fights with EL James are pretty much common knowledge. But she wasn't the only person that James had trouble with: Kelly Marcel, the original screenwriter, immediately drew criticism from EL James with her first draft of the script.

Happy families?
Happy families?

After getting the go-ahead from Universal to cut up the story chronologically, Marcel delivered a screenplay which was apparently artistic and sexy, cutting a lot of James' "famously clunky" dialogue to bring out the passion of the plot.

"I didn’t want the story to be linear; I wanted it to begin at the end of the film, and for us to meet in the middle. So you start with the spanking, and you have these sort of flashes that go throughout the film … I wanted to take the inner goddess out, and all of Ana’s inner monologue … I wanted to remove a lot of the dialogue. I felt it could be a really sexy film if there wasn’t so much talking in it."

Oooooh talk about Fifty Shades of Shade. Understandably, James was not happy with these changes, but she wasn't exactly constructive in her criticism.

After James threatened to withdraw her support from the film, Universal brought in a different screenwriter who would adhere more closely to the books (Patrick Marber). But even his version didn't satisfy James, and she again used threats to get her way, this time saying she would take to Twitter and tell all her fans that Universal weren't heeding her input. Marber has since left the franchise, along with Marcel.

It's a shame really. After complaints that the film just wasn't sexy enough, maybe Marcel's version would have delivered that passionate story that fans want so badly. But you can't blame a writer for wanting her story to be represented the way she feels is best. Yet, if reports are to be believed, James didn't stop there.

On-Set Fights

Director Sam Taylor-Johnson and EL James weren't always mortal enemies. In fact, they began the filmmaking process amicably, even Instagramming their time on set together.

The calm before the storm.
The calm before the storm.

This harmony was not to last long, however. According to Taylor-Johnson, she tried hard to appease James and create a film which stayed true to the spirit of the books, but their relationship soon deteriorated, as they often argued on set.

"We battled all the way through. She'd say the same. There were tough times and revelatory times. There were sparring contests. It was definitely not an easy process. I kept trying to remind myself that they hired me for a reason. Some people said to me, 'I'm surprised you haven't quit.' I was like, 'Why would you think I'd quit?' I never quit anything. Not without a fight."

Yet James' confrontational nature proved too much for Taylor-Johnson and quit she did, leaving Fifty Shades Darker in the hands of director James Foley.

Darker Than Grey

EL James certainly seems to have left a wake of destruction, and as director and screenwriters alike left the franchise, James was herself determined to pen the screenplay for Fifty Shades Darker. It's not unheard of for novelists to do this - Gillian Flynn did very well with the screenplay adaptation of her book Gone Girl - but could James really write a script? Let me remind you that instead of using the word red, at one point in the books James uses this little description...

“I must be the color of The Communist Manifesto.”


A couch the color of Communism
A couch the color of Communism

But it looks like this promise to write Fifty Shades Darker was unfounded, as James' husband Niall Leonard is set to write the film instead. He does have some TV writing experience, and maybe he'll be able to come to terms with James more easily than the previous creative team.

With the creative shakeups and budget concerns, it looks like we'll have to wait a while to find out how Leonard fares as the franchise's new scribe, but at least we can be sure that the Fifty Shades scandals won't cease to entertain.


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