The incredibly strange story of David O Russell’s Nailed

Now called Accidental Love, comedy Nailed began as a David O Russell movie more than seven years ago. Here's a look at its strange story...

Despite its stellar cast, which includes Jessica Biel, Jake Gyllenhaal and James Brolin, it’s possible that you’ve never heard of the forthcoming comedy Accidental Love. It’s almost certain that you haven’t heard of its director Stephen Greene, because he doesn’t exist.

The Accidental Love saga takes in Oscar-nominated director David O Russell, dodgy financiers, multiple production shut-downs, cast walk-outs and questionable name changes. Until recently, it looked as though the film would never see the light of day at all.

Accidental Love began life as Nailed, a screwball political comedy co-written by Russell and Kristin Gore (daughter of US politician Al Gore). For Russell, whose previous film I Heart Huckabees had struggled at the box office, Nailed was supposed to be a “fresh page and comeback,” as he described it to Hitfix‘s Drew McWeeny. Instead, it would soon prove to be a nightmare.

The script is quirky, to say the least. It’s about a waitress named Alice, who’s accidentally shot in the head with a nail gun when a workman falls off a ladder. Because she doesn’t have medical insurance, Alice (Biel) can’t afford to undergo the operation to remove the offending nail, so she heads to Washington to campaign for better health care, where she meets a sleazy politician (Gyllenhaal). At the same time, she battles the psychological effects (including mood swings and spontaneous sexual urges) brought on by her injury. 

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Nailed began to hit headlines in 2008, when filming was interrupted by a string of set-backs. The first was the departure of actor James Caan, who’d reportedly walked off the South Carolina set following an argument with Russell. The official line was that the break-up was amicable; some reports, including one from Entertainment Weekly, suggested that Caan and Russell had fallen out over a scene that involved the actor both choking to death and coughing at the same time.

In May, news emerged that filming on Nailed had been put on hold; the problem, it gradually became clear, was its financing. According to independent producers Doug Wick and Lucy Fisher, who’d previously been behind such films as Jarhead and Stuart Little, Naileds financiers were of “of questionable integrity.”

“…we went with a financier of questionable integrity that turned out to be of no integrity whatsoever and just had no intention of paying the bills,” Fisher told Collider, “and he didn’t.”

Money problems would plague Nailed throughout 2008, as allegations emerged that the people in charge of the purse strings – David Bernstein and partner Ron Tutor – were failing to pay the cast and crew on time. When the Screen Actors Guild and the International Alliance of Theatrical & Stage Employees got wind of what was going on, they demanded that the cast and crew remain away from the set. Then the financiers shut the production down altogether – just one day before the shoot was due to be completed.

With the production essentially bankrupt, Nailed remained in limbo for two years, and Russell eventually abandoned it altogether in 2010. The director later described the experience as “painful” and “Kafkaesque.” 

“That was like, ‘How can it get much lower than getting divorced, having to put your kid in a special boarding school at a young age, and being broke and not knowing how to make a movie?’ Russell said of Nailed‘s troubled production. “Well, it can get worse. You can make a movie that doesn’t get completed because of mysterious financing.”

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Producers Wick and Fisher departed at the same time as Russell, stating, “We have been informed that we will be unable to stay involved with the movie ‘Nailed’ unless we agree to make concessions that are unfair, unprofessional and detrimental to the movie. We applaud David O. Russell’s unique talent and tireless work, and we hope to collaborate with him again soon.”

Wick and Fisher would later add that the Nailed production was “one of the great bitch slappings of either of our lives.” 

With Russell and the producers out of the picture, Nailed‘s financiers tried to cut the film together themselves – no doubt hoping they could recoup some of their investment by getting the film into a state where it could actually be sold. There was, however, a problem: production had been halted before one key scene had been adequately shot – where Jessica Biel’s Alice gets the fateful nail to the head. According to Indiewire, all the editors had to work with was a “poorly lit and confusing” version of the sequence that probably would have been cleaned up had filming been allowed to run its course.

Nevertheless, a rough cut of Nailed was put together, and test screened in Los Angeles on the 1st March 2011. Bizarrely, nobody bothered to tell the cast and crew – even though David O Russell’s name appeared on the screening invite as “From David O’Russell [sic].”

From what we can gather, the response from that test screening wasn’t particularly positive. 

In the screening’s aftermath, Naileds producers, Wick and Fisher seemed to think that everyone concerned had drawn a line under the whole situation; “everyone’s moved on,” they said. And besides, they pointed out, Obamacare had appeared in the interim, and the film’s satire of American hospital care suddenly seemed out of date.

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So with David O Russell formally abandoning the film (“I can no longer call it ‘my’ picture,” he said in 2010), the test screening a disaster and no release date in sight, that appeared to be the end of Nailed. Certainly, the unpleasant experience didn’t hold Russell back for long; the year he walked away from Nailed, he landed a critical and financial hit with The Fighter. Those were followed up by the similarly popular Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and American Hustle (2013), placing him firmly back at the top of the Hollywood filmmaking tree.

Nailed, meanwhile, has continued to cling to the edge of the film industry like a limpet. Renamed twice – Politics Of Love was doing the rounds for a while, before it acquired its current title, Accidental Love – the movie’s now scheduled for release this year by Millennium Films. It’s credited to a director named Stephen Greene – an Alan Smithee-like pseudonym for Russell.

Accidental Love will only be given a fairly low-key release – it will appear on video-on-demand services on the 10th February, then in theatres on the 20th. But this does at least mean that a film long thought to have been shelved for good will see the inside of a cinema after all.

For better or worse, the incredibly strange Nailed saga will soon draw to a close.