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Will Ferrell Approached to Play Filmmaker Russ Meyer in Russ and Roger Go Beyond

‘In a field filled with cheap, dreary productions, Meyer is the best craftsman and the only artist,’ declared film critic Roger Ebert in his 1969 review of Vixen, the latest low-budget exploitation picture from cult filmmaker Russ Meyer. The following year Ebert’s first produced screenplay, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, was released to modest acclaim, with none other than Meyer in the director’s chair. This marked the beginning of a creative partnership that would result in Up! and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens, the latter marking Meyer’s swan song as a director, while their abandoned Sex Pistols project Who Killed Bambi? was later adapted into the mockumentary The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle.

Ebert was first introduced to the world of Russ Meyer when he walked in on a viewing of The Immoral Mr. Teas, Meyer’s directorial debut and the catalyst for the nudie-cutie boom of the early 1960s. While skin flicks had become commonplace at that time, Ebert was impressed by the level of sophistication and intelligence and walked out of the Illinois theatre eager to see more from the new filmmaker. ‘What is it about Meyer that spurs critics to this hyperbole?’ Ebert would ask in 1995. ‘I think it is an intensely personal reaction to the visceral power of Meyer’s unusual images.’

Meyer and Ebert would become close friends during the promotion of Vixen and Meyer, in his typically deadpan manner, would often insinuate to the press that Ebert was the more devious of the two. ‘Ebert is more debauched than I,’ he once claimed. A relative newcomer in the world of film criticism, Ebert was turning twenty-seven when he was welcomed into Meyer’s inner-circle with the offering of collaborating with the filmmaker on the screenplay for his latest project, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

Meyer had initially been approached by 20th Century Fox to develop a sequel to their 1967 drama Valley of the Dolls, an adaptation of the recently published novel by Jacqueline Susann that had featured memorable performances from Patty Duke and Sharon Tate. A brooding satire on the perils of the entertainment industry, Valley of the Dolls was greeted with a mixed response from critics but its score, from composer John Williams, would be nominated for an Academy Award. Biographer Jimmy McDonough notes that it would be Susann who would protest against Meyer directing a sequel to her story and filed an injunction, forcing Ebert to rewrite the script to remove any direct references to the characters or events from Valley of the Dolls.

Despite his controversial reputation, Meyer was given a considerable amount of creative freedom during the project’s development and on 2 December 1969 cameras started rolling on his latest feature film. The often hectic and diabolical experience of shooting of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is set to become the focal point of an upcoming biography entitled Russ and Roger Go Beyond, which will explore the working relationship and close friendship between Meyer and Ebert and the creation of the 1970 cult classic.

Christopher Cluess, best known for his work on Saturday Night Live and MADtv, has been writing the screenplay, while Shaun of the Dead filmmaker Edgar Wright is reportedly interested in directing. The most intriguing aspect of the project, however, is the casting. Will Ferrell, whose previous roles have been in such diverse films as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Melinda and Melinda and Casa de mi Padre, is the producers’ first choice to portray Meyer who, at forty-seven, is the same age as Meyer at the time of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert

Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert

Rumours also indicate that Jonah Hill, who gave an Academy Award-nominated performance for Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, is among the actors considered for the role of Ebert, who passed away in 2013 at the age of seventy. ‘The script focus is the late 1960s, when cheap counterculture films like Easy Rider were minting money, and 20th Century Fox was struggling mightily over a number of big-budget flops,’ report Deadline.

The feature was first announced in October 2013, barely six months after the death of Ebert, with a press release revealing that Mark Amin’s Sobini Films is partnering with David Permut’s Permut Presentations and Richard Waltzer’s Chautauqua Entertainment to acquire Russ and Roger Go Beyond, a screenplay written by Emmy winner Christopher Cluess, based on the true story of the unique relationship between provocative filmmaker Russ Meyer and legendary critic Roger Ebert while they made Beyond the Valley of the Dolls at 20th Century Fox.’

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