Bewitched’s journey to the silver screen

        By Wizzy

Bewitched the feature film was originally planned as a traditional tv-to-film remake directed by actor/director Ted Bessell (Donald on That Girl). The film property was in pre-production with producer/director Penny Marshall’s team at Paramount in the mid-1990s. Marshall first hired former Laverne & Shirley staff writer Monica Johnson to come up with a script. Eventually, Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral) took a crack at the story, as did Broadway playwright Douglas Carter Beane. His 1996 stage reading cast Cynthia Nixon (Miranda on Sex and the City) as Samantha.

After the sudden and unexpected death of Mr. Bessell from an aortic aneurysm on October 6, 1996, all Bewitched feature film plans were halted, until Penny Marshall later teamed with producers Lucy Fisher and Douglas Wick’s Red Wagon Entertainment at Sony/Columbia Pictures.

Through the following years, the names of actresses Cameron Diaz, Kristin Davis, Lisa Kudrow, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alicia Silverstone, and Reese Witherspoon had been bandied about in considerations for the coveted role of Samantha Stephens. However, the Sony Bewitched project remained locked in limbo with a pile of rejected screenplays from a few more writers including Ellen Simon (One Fine Day), and Laurice Elehwany (My Girl, The Brady Bunch Movie).

Kidman and Ferrell as Samantha and DarrinHow the Bewitched movie became a Nicole Kidman/Will Ferrell vehicle about a witch named Isabel in Hollywood has been told in various press releases and TV interviews (on Oprah, The View, Charlie Rose, etc.) and reported on web sites and in Hollywood trade papers.

The project’s thaw from its previous deep freeze came in 2003 when Oscar-winning actress and life-long Bewitched TV show fan Nicole Kidman expressed genuine interest in Sony’s long-shelved Bewitched film remake property. Sony/Columbia Pictures’ chairman Amy Pascal reportedly then called her friend Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally) and pleaded for a pitcha plotanything to ensure Kidman would finally commit to the Sony film with successful romantic-comedy producer/director/writer Ephron on board helming the project.

Nora Ephron told the press that she decided on an original approach, far removed from the traditional retread or parody-style remakes. She devised the idea that Kidman would play a new witch looking for mortal love who gets cast in a Bewitched television show remake simply because she (like Kidman) had a nose that resembles Elizabeth Montgomery’s famous twitcher! Bewitched was to be Nora Ephron’s first film endeavor in the five years since she produced, wrote and directed Paramount’s $63 million dollar John Travolta/Lisa Kudrow vehicle: Lucky Numbers (an unlucky flop with global box-office of approximately $11 million.)  

Soon after, Hollywood trade papers would announce that Nicole Kidman had signed a “play-or-pay deal” for $17.5 million – ensuring that even if the film stalled again for any reason, she would still get her star salary.


Click to view larger image by In the spring of 2003, former-television-actor-turned-film-star Jim Carrey reportedly met with Nora Ephron and Nicole Kidman over dinner in Manhattan to discuss the proposed Bewitched film’s co-starring role. He eventually decided not to play the washed-up film actor defeatedly returning to television in Ephron’s backstage-of-a-new-Bewitched-TV-show-within–the-movie screenplay, co-written by Ephron’s sister Delia. Jim Carrey chose instead to star in another remake, Sony’s Fun with Dick & Jane, a film with a planned Fall 2005 release that was subsequently pushed back to Christmas.

New Line Films’s Elf was released after Carrey nixed Bewitched, and it became a huge 2003 Holiday season hit. All eyes were on Will Ferrell as a new comedy star and box-office earner. Ferrell was offered the part and gladly accepted. The Kidman/Ferrell teaming was officially announced in the trades on February 5, 2004. Ferrell’s writing partner Adam McKay was soon brought in to doctor the script and punch it up with some Will Ferrell-slanted comedic bits.

Within months, Ferrell’s Anchorman film co-stars Steve Carell and Fred Willard were announced in the trades as being cast as Uncle Arthur and Dr. Bombay, with his Elf co-star Zooey Deschanel’s real life boyfriend Jason Schwartzman signed on to play his smarmy agent Richie - a character strangely resembling Kidman’s ex-husband Tom Cruise’s role in the film Jerry Maguire.

Ferrell’s other Elf co-star Amy Sedaris initially auditioned, was not offered, and then eventually hired for the cameo role of Gladys Kravitz in the film’s final moments. She had originally expressed interest in playing the role of Aunt Clara.

Kristin Chenoweth was added to the cast as the witch’s neighbor friend, after Nicole Kidman reportedly enjoyed Chenoweth’s performance as Galinda in Broadway’s witchy musical Wicked, which opened on Broadway in Fall 2003.

Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine as Endora and MauriceSoon after, Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine were announced in the roles that would most emulate Endora and Maurice, Samantha’s TV parents. The role of the warlock father was reportedly crafted by the Ephrons with only Michael Caine in mind. Shirley MacLaine (who had been in semi-retirement in New Mexico for several years) told press that she “wasn’t much of a fan of the TV series,” but had taken the film role because she “wanted to play a witch.” It is assumed that Ephron catered to MacLaine’s request and allowed her character to also be a sorceress, since the April 2004 script copy had the Iris character just written as a mortal diva actress cast as the new TV Endora. Nora Ephron explained in the Sony press release: “(Shirley) really enhanced the role in a major way. She had a very clear sense of who that person had to be in order to keep the people who loved Endora happy.”
  Read Harpies Bizarre's Bewitched Movie Script Review.

After Joan Plowright dropped out of the project, her previously announced role of Aunt Clara was next offered to 48-year-old British actress Imelda Staunton, who was getting rave reviews in Fall 2004 for her role in the Mike Leigh film Vera Drake, which would earn her an Oscar nomination. Staunton told Hello! magazine that her response to Sony’s offer was,"I'm sorry, but I've just had the best job of my life, and I don't particularly want to use it to turn up as the token mad Englishwoman in a very big American film." After Imelda Staunton passed on Clara, the role went to Kristin Chenoweth’s Broadway co-star Carole Shelley, who left her role as Madame Morrible in Wicked for a week in Hollywood shooting her scenes.  

Executive Producer Lucy Fisher was quoted in the Sony press release as saying, “(Nora) has a great nose for actors and everyone wants to work with her. I think we got our first choice with every person in the movie.”

Bewitched Forever author and original series historian, Herbie J Pilato, met with Nora Ephron in Los Angeles to consult on the screenplay and offer pre-production suggestions on making the feature’s fantasy dynamics more compatible with the original series. Pilato left Ephron and her creative team with copious notes on the story elements that he felt Bewitched fans would most likely enjoy and not enjoy.
  Read Herbie J Pilato's Script Suggestions

Filming began late Summer 2004 at Sony’s Culver Studio stages, with Los Angeles-area location shooting at the Sunset Strip’s Book Soup bookstore, Pann’s restaurant in West LA, Santa Monica’s ocean walk, Pasadena’s Bed, Bath and Beyond store, and a home in the Hancock Park neighborhood.

Into the Fall, the cast and crew of Bewitched reportedly enjoyed a comfortable film shoot with gourmet catering on the set and weekend dinner parties hosted by director and ex-food critic Nora Ephron. A Halloween 2004 promotional broom “from the cast & crew of Bewitched” was sent out to the media to peak their interest in Sony’s upcoming summer comedy.


Bewitched tv producer/director William Asher and his wife Meredith were invited to the Culver City film set to play guests in a wedding scene. Photos of Kidman in a wedding dress with the Ashers in view were released to the international media. Kidman was reportedly delighted to meet “Elizabeth Montgomery’s husband” and in January 2005, she again met with the Ashers near their home during a trip to the Palm Springs International Film Festival where Kidman was being honored.

A “Coming Summer 2005” teaser trailer was released in late Fall 2004 showing Nicole Kidman flying on a broom wearing a red sleeveless dress and heart necklace, twitching her nose like TV’s Samantha in full close-up, and dragging Will Ferrell across the sky as he comically hung from her broom while dramatic new cues of the old TV theme played. This very traditional Samantha/Darrin motif was carried over into all the film posters that were released by Sony.


Sony’s Bewitched film wrapped by Christmas 2004, and their Culver Studios hung a congratulatory banner on the studio wall saluting the cast and crew.

A rough cut of the Bewitched film played to test audiences in early Spring 2005 and the comment cards revealed that audiences wanted “more magic” and “scenes with magical family members.” Michael Caine was flown back to LA from London for re-shoots and added scenes, with the Dr. Bombay and wedding (with the Ashers) scenes eventually cut from the final film. Originally slated for a July 8th release date, the film was shuffled to a June 24, 2005 opening, away from the July competition of Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise’s War of the Worlds and Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Sony launched an official Bewitched movie web site, and soon movie tie-in promotions and products began popping up online.


By late Spring 2005, full trailers were being released showing U.S. audiences what the film really offered in terms of plot, and revealing that this was not a traditional remake and featured new characters and story. The international trailers from Sony were a bit more candid in their approach.


On the press junket for the film, Nicole Kidman told interviewers that she greatly enjoyed the laughs and playfulness on the set with her funny, down-to-earth, family-man co-star Will Ferrell, whom she also found to be pleasantly quiet and cerebral. Kidman also said she absolutely adored her time acting with Michael Caine. Will Ferrell said he was thrilled to have worked with Nicole Kidman and Nora Ephron.

The morning of the film’s June 13, 2005 World premiere at Manhattan’s Ziegfeld Theatre brought sad news to Nicole Kidman, who learned that her long-time makeup man and friend Robert McCann had unexpectedly died the prior evening. Putting on a brave face, Kidman arrived for her red carpet premiere duties only to be confronted by a belligerent photographer. Visibly upset, Kidman was photographed scolding the paparazzi. Bill and Meredith Asher and Erin “Tabitha” Murphy were in attendance for the film’s premiere.

Opening night of Bewitched in Los Angeles had sold-out showings with audiences cheering for the film’s opening title sequence (featuring the TV show’s familiar font) and applauding the film’s use of clips from the original television series.

The long-awaited $85-million-dollar-budgeted Bewitched feature film earned $20 million dollars on its opening weekend. Due to mostly mediocre reviews and poor word of mouth, the film earned $62 million dollars at the domestic box-office and was gone from theaters within 10 weeks. However, the film performed better across the globe with more than $65 million dollars earned in countries familiar with reruns of the original TV series.

At the behest of executive producer Penny Marshall, the film’s end credits featured a dedication to the late Ted Bessell.

The film’s DVD launch came in time for Halloween 2005, and featured bonus materials of star interview segments (previously seen during summer TV Land and WB promotional Bewitched TV-show marathons), as well as audio commentary and deleted scenes (however, the reported Dr. Bombay scene with Fred Willard arriving on an elephant was not included.)

Nora Ephron (who acted as producer, writer, director – as well as soundtrack producer on the Bewitched feature film) was the only person to speak on the supplemental DVD audio commentary:

“…I think it’s kind of a stretch to say that this show was in some way about feminism…(Samantha) never did get a job the whole 7 years she was on the air.”

“I was single when (Bewitched) was on the air (1964-1972), so I was much more interested  in The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977). I just was.”


“Unlike in the old Bewitched where (Samantha) constantly chose not to be a witch, what (Isabel) is left with at the end of this movie is that you don’t have to chose. You can be both things…you can be powerful and in love, if you are a woman.”


“(Isabel’s valley home exterior) happens to be the house of the woman who did Meg Ryan’s hair, or makeup – on a movie I was involved with.”


“There’s no question that (Shirley) felt strongly that Iris’s powers in this movie should be more complicated than we had made them in the original script, and therefore they are.”


“Of course we all wish we could rewind things, don’t we?”


“…what you hope will happen is that people will look back on your movie and at least think the food was great.”


“Basically movies are just a kind of giant pizza…with everything on it…and they start out as plain pizzas and at the end they’ve got anchovies and mushrooms and green peppers, and you just hope it wasn’t a mistake putting any of them on.”


Daily Variety
The Hollywood Reporter