Arts & Entertainment

'James Cameron's Titanic': The unauthorized comedy getting a one-time live production

From the poster for the live reading of
From the poster for the live reading of "James Cameron's Titanic" by Jen D'Angelo.
The Black List

The 1997 film "Titanic" is a beloved tearfest — but what if it wasn't? Writer Jen D'Angelo wrote "James Cameron's Titanic," a take from a different point of view on the events of the movie, written as a comedy. That script made the Black List, an annual collection of the hottest scripts in Hollywood, and now the likely unproducible film is getting a live reading on Saturday night.

"So I actually was having some writer's block, and I really wanted to write a feature script, because I write mostly TV," D'Angelo told KPCC. "But I couldn't come up with an idea, and my husband basically was like, he had just spoken to a writer who, to get over her writer's block, she just made a list of things that she likes and let that spark something. So I did the same thing, and my list was literally just like dogs, pizza, and the movie 'Titanic.'"

While she hasn't written the rest of that "Titanic," dogs, pizza trilogy, she was inspired to write a comedy version of the movie. She felt there was already unintentional comedy in the original and wanted to play with that while putting her own spin on it.

"The thought process had always been this would be this fun thing for people to read, and sort of introduce people to my comedic voice. We obviously knew that this is not something that we'd ever be able to make in any way — although, I mean, I guess never say never. It's my dream," D'Angelo said.

The script led to meetings where she found more and more people who had a friend pass her script along to them, or with someone who had seen it online. That led to it eventually making it on the Black List and now getting a live reading, with the lead roles played by actors Judy Greer, Constance Wu and Anders Holm.

D'Angelo's favorite part to write: The sinking, because she finally didn't have to worry about a budget.

"That was super fun to just write like a ton of insane destruction that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to shoot, but that's not really a concern ever, so I can just go nuts," D'Angelo said.

One bit of absurdity from the original she wanted to draw attention to: how cartoonishly evil some members of the crew were.

"They're so mean to these people who just want to survive, and it's just like, I mean, do we really think that they were outright mean and not just trying to enforce the rules that they were being made to enforce?" D'Angelo said. "They weren't just delighting in the fact that all these people were going to die. Like, I'm sure they were very scared as well."

Another of her favorite moments: the bodyguard for the character played by Billy Zane shooting at Jack and Rose.

"It's just like, you're on a sinking ship, everybody's going to die. You don't need to shoot them," D'Angelo said.

She wrote the script fast, but to finish it, she locked herself in a hotel room for a night in Palm Springs — which she said was ridiculous, fun and "a little pretentious."

The poster for
The poster for "James Cameron's Titanic" by Jen D'Angelo.
The Black List

Don't get her wrong, though — this project comes from a deep, abiding love for the real thing.

"It really gets me every single time when [Rose] jumps back onto the boat. I will always cry at that, no matter how many times I've seen it," D'Angelo said. "But it also, Rose's mom, when she realizes that she's lost Rose forever, it's such a really dark, sad moment, that I always really appreciate it. Because Rose's mom, she's one of those cartoonishly horrible people, but then she has this very real moment where she's just confronted with the horror of the sinking, and the fact that she'll never see her daughter again. It's really sad, but it works."

For more of D'Angelo's work, you can watch "Workaholics" which is about to wrap up (she wrote on the last season), as well as episodes of "Comedy Bang Bang," "Cougar Town" and "The Millers" — and she even acted on MTV's "Loosely Exactly Nicole." And maybe keep an eye out at your local cineplex for a bizarre take on "Titanic"... someday.

Oh, and one last pro tip from D'Angelo:

"I would love for [KPCC listeners and readers] to know that the alternate ending to 'Titanic,' you can find online, and it's completely insane, and they should watch it if they haven't seen it. Oh my gosh, it's so crazy."

Featuring the late, great Bill Paxton — enjoy:

The alternate ending to James Cameron's "Titanic"