In the early 1990s, one of the most riveting best-selling books was Richard Preston’s “The Hot Zone”. The true story tale dealt with the spread of the highly infectious, deadly Ebola virus from the first outbreak in Africa, to the main thrust of the story – an outbreak in 1989 at a monkey house just a few miles from The White House.
At the time, there was also a major film adaptation of the book in the works with Robert Redford and Jodie Foster to star and Ridley Scott slated to direct. Lynda Obst was a producer on the film which 20th Century Fox won the rights to.
However a rival similarly-themed project at Warners, the Wolfgang Petersen-directed and Dustin Hoffman-led “Outbreak,” was assembled quicker and got out into cinemas – effectively cutting the knees out from under ‘Hot Zone’. Over twenty years later, the property is finally getting adapted as a three-part event series for the National Geographic Channel starring Julianna Margulies, Noah Emmerich, Topher Grace and Liam Cunningham.
Recently Obst, who is also producing the event series, spoke with THR about the original film’s collapse and admits it’s still “the most traumatic thing that had ever happened to me”. She talks about the project and how “Outbreak” got in first:
“We still had the better package and we had the better script, so we were moving as quickly as we could, but when you have Robert Redford and Ridley [Scott], they can’t agree necessarily on everything easily. You need the time to get them to all come to the same conclusions. While we were doing that, they [Outbreak crew] started shooting monkey footage… Just monkeys! It was like the first time I ever did really good work and lost. It was totally traumatic. I didn’t think the good guys could lose. But this is the movie business.”
With “Outbreak” then moving fast at Warners, Fox dropped “The Hot Zone” and it began to fell apart. In fact, digging the knife in even further was that Petersen then tried to lure Redford over to his movie instead but Redford promised to stick with “Hot Zone”.
Ultimately the film never coalesced and Obst admits as further virus and pandemic films hit the screen in the interim she “wanted to bang my head against the wall”. Ultimately her perseverance has paid off and the project is finally getting made with the event series set to premiere this Memorial Day. Check out the recently released trailer below.