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"The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion"

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Did you know that Disney almost created a Haunted Mansion-based film back in the '90s? Screenwriters Jim Hill and Sheila Greenberg had developed a script, which was optioned by the studio twice. The following is a brief recounting of the story, in Hill's own words - along with a copy of the original screenplay, which you can download to read for yourself.

Exclusive: The Haunted Mansion Film that Almost Was

By Jim Hill

You see, back in the early 1990s, I—and my then-writing partner, Sheila Greenberg—were trying to sell a few screenplays. We heard that then-Disney studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg was interested in doing some feature films based on classic Disney theme park attractions.

Now—given that I had just interviewed Marc Davis a few month earlier—I had all of these great notes about what the initial back story of Disney's "Haunted Mansion" was supposed to be. So I thought: "What the hell. Let's see if Sheila and I can't take these notes and work them up into something that Disney might be interested in producing."

So Sheila and I wrote a screenplay that was laden with the Haunted Mansion mythos and mythology that Marc had told me about. (As a bit of tip-of-the-hat to Mr. Davis, we used his name in the screenplay. In fact, practically every character in the script is named after some Imagineer.)

So we send the script out west and — Well, whaddaya know?— Disney was interested in the project. The script circled through the studio for several months. And Sheila and I had meetings with all sorts of folks at the Mouse House, as they tried to figure out what they wanted to do with our screenplay. (At one point, we actually met with the folks at Disney's gaming division. Who— even if Walt Disney Pictures officially took a pass on the project — these guys were interested in taking our screenplay and possibly adapting it into a "Haunted Mansion" role playing game.)

But then— sadly—"Hocus Pocus" came out and immediately tanked at the box office. Which made Katzenberg immediately lose all enthusiasm doing any more supernaturally-based comedy / adventures. So—at this point — our "Haunted Mansion" screenplay was formally rejected by the Mouse.

Which was disappointing, but not entirely disastrous. After all, the heat that our "Haunted Mansion" script had initially generated had gotten Sheila and I representation with the United Talent Agency. Which was one of the hottest talent agencies out in LA at the time. So that was nothing to sneeze at.

Anyway... several years pass. And then, clear out of the blue in 1997, Sheila and I hear from our agent at Coast-to-Coast Talent. It seems that Disney is once again interested in filming our "Haunted Mansion" screenplay. But NOT as a theatrical release. But, rather, as a TV movie to be shown on "The Wonderful World of Disney" in the Fall of 1998.

So there's this quick flurry of negotiations. Disney sets up the TV movie with a production company that they do a lot of business with, Keystone Productions (They're the folks who make all those "Air Bud" movies that the Mouse releases through its Buena Vista Home Entertainment arm). Keystone officially takes an option on our script. Sheila and I sign a contract and each get a nice little check. And then... nothing.

What happened? Near as we can figure, this project (which was supposed to be a follow-up to the "Tower of Terror" movie that aired on "Wonderful World of Disney" in October 1997) got canceled because ABC felt that "Tower" didn't pull decent enough ratings. Or Keystone got cold feet because of the projected production costs (Obviously, any movie based on Disney's "Haunted Mansion" attraction is going to have to feature a lot of pricey special effects). Or something like that.

So—once again—our "Haunted Mansion" screenplay was dead in the water. But—on the upside—this script did get Sheila and I some decent representation as well as a somewhat small payday. And that's a hell of a lot better than most struggling screenwriters can ever say they did.

Click here to download the script to read for yourself.


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