"Hard to Be a God" is having a hard time becoming a movie.
The West German-Russ co-venture is in preproduction in the U.S.S.R. With a September re-start date. And a new--as yet unnamed--leading man. This after original star William Petersen("To Live and Die in L.A.," "Manhunter") left amid reports of the film's financial difficulties--and a personality conflict with W. German producer/director Peter Fleishman.
An ambitious project from the beginning, it's an epic/heroic story based on the 1973 Soviet sci-fi novel by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky. The plot unites the medieval and the future--bringing knights, dragons, etc., into a futuristic setting. The language is a mixture of old English and futuristic slang.
Back in April, when Petersen left for Russia, he was prepared to spend five months filming in ancient ruins near Yalta and the Black Sea where the Russians spent some $4 million building sets.
He left two months later. Speaking from his Chicago home town, Petersen explained, "The producers didn't have the money they had claimed. They hadn't done enough preparation. The blame went back and forth and nothing was solved. . . . The script they asked me to do was no longer the script we were working on. It had gone from a theatrical action picture that had a purpose to a tedious, non-active, slow-moving European picture."
Complicating matters were the fact that several languages were involved. The international cast and crew required numerous translators.
Speaking by phone from W. Germany, exec producer Rainer Mockert acknowledged that financing was a problem. But the main reason filming stopped was because "It became impossible for Billy and Peter to work together and the financial problem was a result of this problem because when the French part of our crew heard about it, they stopped the cash flow."
In retrospect, Mockert believes his group erred by "sending Billy five weeks too early to Russia because we thought the Russians were more prepared to start the picture. He (Petersen) was sitting around in Yalta and Kiev waiting. In the beginning he was very engaged, but it is not the best time for an actor, sitting and waiting."
Mockert will shortly announce a new lead--who will be a Russian actor.
Fleishman, meanwhile, is in Russia readying the project for its next start-up.
As for Petersen, he's back at work with Remains Theatre, the Chicago theater group that he co-founded. He's also reading scripts with a new outlook: "I have a lot more respect for the Hollywood film industry."