Æon Flux stumbles at the end of production due to Paramount’s meddling and editing!

Director Karyn Kusama’s debut movie, Girlfight, was released in 2000. A sports drama starring Michelle Rodriguez as Diana Guzman, a teenager from Brooklyn who decides to channel all her anger through the sport of boxing, a predominately male dominated sport.

Whilst not a hugely financial success, the film was a critical one winning several awards. It jump-started the careers of both its main star and director.

Feeling that she had made a successful entry into the world of film, Kusama felt that working on her second film, a tale of a man who was unwillingly changing into a woman, would be simple.

Unfortunately, Hollywood is old fashioned and tried to convince her to change the plot and characters to suit their liking but she refused and stood her ground. The film never came to pass.

In 2003, Kusama was sent the script for Æon Flux written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, a live action adaptation of the MTV animated series directed by Peter Chung.

In an interview with Buzzfeed, Hay said,

“We were like, ‘We want to do the craziest version of this movie possible, something really, genuinely weird,’”

The original animations have no continuity to speak off so Hay and Manfredi rewrote the story into an action romance about a futuristic society that exists within a walled city. A virus has stopped the human ability to reproduce and everyone is in fact, a clone.

Kusama was intrigued,

“There was something really interesting there about this idea of the soul and its expression across time. I said, ‘OK, I’m not going to get this job, but I’ll just go through the motions of meeting with a studio to see what that’s like.’”

She presented her pitch with storyboards and concept art. Unknown to her, the presentation was so much better than what anyone else had come up with, she was offered the role as director.

As a second film for the director it was daunting, this was a major action picture with a budget originally forecast at $110 million, in comparison, Girlfight was only $1 million.

Æon Flux

Æon Flux (2005) Actress Charlize Charlize Theron listens to director Karyn Kusama.

Paramount wanted the budget cut in half and Kusama agreed. All through pre-production Paramount Pictures chief, Sherry Lansing, fully supported the director and everything was going to plan.

The autumn of 2004 saw a change at the studio and Lansing had moved on. When Kusama delivered her film, it wasn’t what the new heads of Paramount now wanted.

According to Kusama, the word from up above was,

This is a $50 million art movie!

Paramount were not happy and almost instantly they turned against her, she was removed from the film and new editors were brought in to “rescue” the film.

Speaking to Buzzfeed, Kusama said everything good about the film, Paramount changed,

“The emotional core of things was always being questioned as sentimental, over­romantic, short of literally saying the words ‘female’ or ‘feminine,’”

“Huge swatches of storyline, which gave the movie a kind of emotional weight, were completely removed.” The action sequences, so carefully choreographed and shot with long, deliberate takes, were chopped up into a jumbled mess. Even the sexuality of a gay supporting character was cut out of the film.”

When Paramount had finished, the run time was reduced to 71 minutes. However, this new bastardised version didn’t sit well with the studio heads either.

They asked her back into the editing suite to try and fix the mess they had created. Unfortunately, she was tasked to work with a studio editor who was there to keep the studio’s interest at heart, not for her to restore the original cut of the film.

The finished film was a flop for Paramount and failed to make back even its production budget. The critics weren’t too kind either.

Æon Flux’s creator Peter Chung was also displeased with the film, including the original directors cut, stating,

“…the movie is a travesty. I was unhappy when I read the script four years ago; seeing it projected larger than life in a crowded theatre made me feel helpless, humiliated and sad.”

“I know that the studio made a lot of cuts against the wishes of the writers and director. Most of the cuts concerned further development of the secondary characters. Since my main problems are with the portrayal of Æon and Trevor, I doubt that I’d have liked the longer version much better. I didn’t when I read the script, and there are definitely some things I’m glad WERE cut…”

Screenwriters Hay and Manfredi asserted in an interview that roughly thirty minutes of footage was cut from the original version. As the film was an embarrassment for Paramount, it’s incredibly unlikely we will ever see Karyn Kusama’s original version.

If you’d like to read more about Karyn Kusama’s struggle with the Hollywood system, I recommend reading Buzzfeed’s “How Hollywood Turned Its Back On One Of The Most Exciting Filmmakers”, the source for this article.


John Abbitt

About the author | John Abbitt

@UKFilmNerd | John loves film, and he used to write for his own website, The Tydirium Hangar Bay, in the late 1990s. Whilst that website became lost in the passages of time, John's love of film did not. He's back, writing for The Unheard Nerd.