The plan is to paint a dreamlike day in the life of Didion and California in the late 1960s, when the brilliant young journalist is hurtled from encounters with jailed Manson girls to protesting Black Panthers, and from Nancy Reagan pausing in a photo op to Vietnam War POWs — climaxing with an epilogue in a near-future California where an AI Joan encounters a dystopia beyond her wildest anxiety dreams.
The film, produced under David Michaels’ Enfant Terrible Cinema, will shoot in Los Angeles in the first or second quarter of 2024. Financing is being discussed with potential partners this week at AFM.
A National Book Award winner and recipient of a National Humanities Medal, Didion’s account of grief and loss in 2005’s The Year of Magical Thinking and 1970’s Play It As It Lays remain among her most prolific work.
“I read every published word Joan wrote, then put it all in a blender,” writer-director Wilder says. “We took all the history and the culture of the period, and what was going on in Joan’s head, and created something fast-moving, lyrical and strange. It moves fast, and it feels like the movie Didion might’ve made with Antonioni in L.A. at the end of the ’60s.”
“Of course, it’s really about today,” says producer David Michaels, an indie stalwart who came on board to pull together the movie’s financing. “All of what Joan saw happening in 1968 birthed the world we live in now. So, every scene is a double: a beautiful distant past but absolutely today.”
“The key to Untitled is the role of Joan, and this is really going to be a defining, iconic role for a young actress,” said Reza Sixo Safai, a Sundance veteran and producer of recent indie cult fare such as A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and Nicolas Cage’s Prisoners of the Ghostland. “Whoever winds up playing Joan…This is something like Lydia Tár, a role that is going to resonate for years.”
Wilder recently penned the script of Seneca, a hallucinatory glimpse of ancient Rome starring John Malkovich that premiered at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. He also wrote Paul Schrader’s Dog Eat Dog, which was the closing-night selection of Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes, and wrote and directed Regarding The Case of Joan of Arc, another Joan movie that was the centerpiece selection of the National Film Festival of India.
Michaels has packaged movies as diverse as The Giver with Meryl Streep and Taylor Swift, and Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander’s The Brothers Marx. Most recently he produced Signs of Love with Dylan Penn and Rosanna Arquette.
Also producing is David Unger, the manager and CEO of Artist International Group who recently led client Michelle Yeoh to a Best Actress Oscar win.