How Eraserhead Led David Lynch To The Elephant Man's Script

David Lynch's sophomore film "The Elephant Man" has an origin story that's almost as crazy as the film itself. A period piece set in the Victorian era, the epic drama is about a man with significant facial deformity working as a sideshow attraction. He is brutally mistreated by the world around him until a kind surgeon takes him under his wing and their friendship blossoms. A similar dynamic emerged between director David Lynch and a huge producer that took him under his wing.

After completing his surreal and unsettling first film, "Eraserhead," Lynch set out to write a screenplay. "After 'Eraserhead' I wrote a script called 'Ronnie Rocket,'" Lynch revealed in an interview on the origins of the film (via Julius Deane). "I worked on that script in a bedroom in my parents house," the director confessed. Sadly, no one was interested in funding the film. "My friend Stewart Cornfeld was helping me, and even with his help I had zero luck," Lynch admitted. Cornfeld was working as a producer under Mel Brooks at the time — a connection that would become useful later.

The only thing left for Lynch to do was to ditch "Ronnie Rocket" and ask Cornfeld if there were any scripts he could direct. To Lynch's delight, there were four. The two got together for lunch and Cornfeld told him the title for the first script — "The Elephant Man." "A small bomb went off in my head," the director recalled. "Instantly I knew, I said 'that's it, that's what I want to do.' I never heard the other three ideas."

Even with Cornfeld, Lynch, and producer Jonathan Sanger attached to the project, there was still the question of securing funding.

Eraserhead earned a stamp of approval from Mel Brooks

The only problem was that no one was interested. "They said no one wants to see a film about a monster like this and that was the end of it," Lynch lamented (via Sean Adair). Luckily, "The Elephant Man" was saved by a major Hollywood name — Mel Brooks

Brooks loved the script, but had never heard of Lynch before. Before agreeing to work with him, the producer insisted on watching Lynch's first film, "Eraserhead." The director was sure that his style would never appeal to Brooks. "Well, it's been nice knowing you guys," he told Sanger and Cornfeld.

Much to Lynch's surprise, his premonitions were totally wrong. "​​I was standing outside the screening room when the doors blew open and Mel came racing toward me," the director recalled. "He embraced me, and he said 'you're a mad man, I love you! You're in!'" Lynch found it "unbelievable that Mel Brooks loved 'Eraserhead,'" but Brooks was completely charmed by the director's quirks. He once described Lynch as being "like Jimmy Stewart if Jimmy Stewart had been born on the Planet Venus!"

The producer took a chance on Lynch, and a harmonious creative relationship was formed. Brooks helped Lynch maintain his creative freedom every step of the way. "He backed me in ways you can't imagine — people wanted to change this, do this, give me all kinds of hell — never would Mel let it happen," Lynch insisted.

The film went on to receive eight Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture and Best Director. "It won zero — but it doesn't matter," Lynch explained. "It put me on the map, it was a great experience... it was just a blessing!"