Paul Thomas Anderson Working to Conquer a 600-Page Screenplay

The ‘Phantom Thread’ director hopes the answer to its unlocking will come to him in a dream.

Every director has that white whale. That beast of a script that has tortured them for decades, but refuses to shuffle off and die. After nearly 20 years of starting and stopping, Terry Gilliam seems to have finally realized his tale of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Martin Scorsese stewed on Silence for decades, only to unleash the film to mild critical praise and almost zero box office return. When Stanley Kubrick died before directing A.I., Steven Spielberg picked up the baton for his friend. Some projects are impossible to shake even in death.

Hopefully, Paul Thomas Anderson won’t have to wait too much longer to spear his beast. In an interview captured on The Bill Simmons podcast, Anderson discussed his options in the wake of the release of Phantom Thread. Having supposedly sent Daniel Day-Lewis off into the sunset, the next film that has caught his eye is one that he’s been obsessing over for quite some time. The director wistfully pondered (as transcribed by The Playlist):

“What I will probably try to do next, foolishly, is go back to that 600-page thing that I have and try to see if there’s anything to carve out of it.”

600 pages! Yikes. To give you an idea of how staggering that number actually is, Anderson’s script for his 2½-hour neo-noir Inherent Vice clocks in at 127 pages. Who knows what monstrosity could result from 600 pages? Or maybe, Anderson actually has a chance of whittling the behemoth down into something manageable.

That’s his plan at the moment, but he won’t be tackling this leviathan head-on. Apparently, Anderson is not the type of auteur to plant himself at the desk only to beat on the screenplay until a reasonable film falls from it. His method is to free the mental space in his brain and allow the movie to flow inside. He says:

“I will probably try to daydream about what I know is in there and wonder how much I can get away with not looking at it and just write from what I know that’s in there that is good. Because when you go back into those 600 pages, it’s a briar patch isn’t it? Right? You start to see something — ‘Well, this is not a bad idea and maybe I should follow that thread?’ And the next thing you know, two hours later you really pissed the day away, right?”

Anderson has a pretty mellow method to storytelling. Why torture yourself with the process? He has the confidence that a rad film is lurking within those 600 pages. He’ll get to it. Maybe the script will unlock in his mind when he’s grocery shopping, or in the shower. What he doesn’t want to do is torturously edit the screenplay, zapping any joy that he once had for the idea.

The important question: is there a role for Tiffany Haddish in this 600-page film? Anderson has mentioned that after experiencing Girls Trip, he is eager to work with the actress. Seeing as Haddish and Anderson’s spouse, Maya Rudolph, killed at the Academy Awards ceremony together this year, I am eager for this cinematic pair to happen. Who knows, Anderson could find three films to shoot from that 600 pages, and one of them has to be for Haddish.

So, I’m guessing we won’t be seeing this mysterious screenplay in a theater anytime soon. We have to be patient. Like the tenacious talents that doggedly pursued Silence and A.I. The film will come to Anderson and then it will eventually come to us.

Brad Gullickson: @@MouthDork Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.