When Dalessandro was researching and writing 1906 as a prequel to his 1993 historical mystery novel Bohemian Heart, his manager urged him to adapt his chapter outline into a detailed film treatment. The treatment was quickly sold to Warner Bros. After he had completed three drafts of a screenplay for Warners, he turned his attention to writing the novel.
Dalessandro grants his book was partially inspired by a 1989 non-fiction work by Gladys Hansen, curator of the Museum of the City of San Francisco. When looking for research materials in 1996, he found Denial of Disaster: The Untold Story and Photographs of the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906 in a bookstore. He also explained use of meticulous personal research. Book scenes with people lying in shock in Golden Gate Park after the quake while surrounded by their possessions was inspired by fact. Enrico Caruso was found wandering in the park, having slept the night there after the Palace Hotel was destroyed. Dalessandro granted a lot of research but use of imagination as well. The novel's depictions were pieced together from letters and observations. In reflecting on how some persons took bathtubs out of their damaged homes, placed them on roller skates, and then filed the tubs with possessions, he noted that the displaced persons would save what was valuable to them... their favorite skillet, grandfather clocks, and pets. When asked to describe 1906 San Francisco, Dalessandro offered that it was "Paris and part Dodge City", expanding that at the time the city "was urbane and sophisticated" while at the same time being The Barbary Coast and fistfights. In handling the then-existing corruption and investigations in San Francisco, he condensed actual situations that had developed over many months into a shorter timespan and with a changing of names. Dalessandro also notes that his researches found the claimed death toll of 478 persons killed by the quake and fire, held as an official count for over 100 years, to be inaccurate. In 2005 the San Francisco Board of Supervisors granted a petition from he and Hansen, and raised the count to over 3,000.
Set during the time of the great San Francisco earthquake and fire, this novel is a story of corruption, romance, revenge, rescue, and murder, based on recently uncovered facts that stand to change the understanding of what actually occurred in the weeks and days before and after the earthquake of April 18, 1906. In a narrative told by reporter Annalisa Passarelli, the novel describes Gilded Age-era San Francisco from the opulent mansions on Nob Hill to the gambling, prostitution and crime-ridden Barbary Coast to the arrival of Enrico Caruso and the San Francisco Metropolitan Opera. The central plot of the novel circles around the ongoing battles between political and cultural factions before the earthquake, and even as the city burns afterwards.
Annalisa Passarelli is a music critic for The Evening Bulletin and is secretly helping the police gather evidence of corruption related to the incumbency of Mayor Eugene Schmitz. Chief of Detectives Byron Fallon hopes to arrest the corrupt mayor, police chief, and city attorney in one fell swoop, but is killed when investigating a waterfront murder. After his death, his son Hunter, a Stanford graduate and amateur detective, steps up to accept his father's mission. Hunter's brother Christian co-leads The Brotherhood, an association of honest police who are dedicated to overthrowing city corruption. Annalisa and Hunter appeal to The Brotherhood for assistance and incriminating evidence is secured, while at the same time the two grow fond of each other. Before the information can be acted upon, the earthquake strikes and the city is thrown into chaos.
Publishers Weekly wrote that the book was an "imaginative and dense interplay" of both fact and fiction surrounding the events of the great quake. While observing that the through plot and numerous sub-plots, the storyline generally worked. It was offered that the author used "too many B-movie theatrics" and the love story portion of the book suffered. Those weaknesses aside, the reviewer wrote "there's plenty of suspense to keep readers turning pages to the bittersweet conclusion."
San Francisco Weekly decried the mixing of real persons with fictional, as it was felt that the combining of fiction with fact by attributing fictional dialogue to actual persons works to the detriment of history.
Contrarily, Kirkus Reviews offered that Dalessandro's mixing of historical fact with fiction "pays off with an exciting and vivid depiction of history."
A film adaptation of 1906, based on both Dalessandro's screenplay and novel, was in development by Warner Bros. Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios, in association with Walt Disney Pictures.
The original idea for a screenplay came to Dalessandro when researching 1906 as a prequel to his 1993 historical mystery novel Bohemian Heart and had finished a 38-page outline and six chapters of the novel when his manager suggested the success of "Titanic" would make the project salable. When the concept was pitched to production companies in July 1998, there was an instant bidding war, and within 24 hours a script had been sold to Warner Bros. Film producer Len Amato wanted Dalessandro to write at least three drafts. After completing the drafts, Dalessandro return to writing the novel 1906, and published it in 2004 as an historical novel.
When Titanic became a blockbuster in 1997, Peter Miller, Dalessandro's manager, urged him to write a detailed film treatment based upon his book outline. They pitched to directors' production companies, specifically Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks, Barry Levinson's company Baltimore Spring Creek, and Wolfgang Petersen's company. According to Dalessandro, the pitch was "Titanic was a boat in the North Atlantic – this is an entire city, the most beautiful we've ever seen, destroyed in 74 hours." There was an instant bidding war, and within 24 hours they had sold the script to Warner Bros. for six figures. The script then went to Barry Levinson and Paula Weinstein and Spring Creek Productions for production. They settled on this company because producer Len Amato wanted Dalessandro to write at least three drafts, giving the writer more influence. After finishing the drafts, Dalessandro wrote and released his novel 1906 in 2004.
The film has an estimated budget of $200 million, and due to the massive size and scale of the project, is being financially backed by both Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures, making it the first time Pixar has been involved in a live-action film. Pixar was also heavily involved.
Academy Award-winning director Brad Bird was selected to direct the film. He paused his work on the project to direct the 2007 Pixar film Ratatouille, before officially signing onto the 1906 project in March 2008, at which time Warner Bros. reserved all sound-studios available on their Burbank lot for production. However, later that spring, Warner Bros. quietly released the reservations while and Brad Bird continued rewriting the screenplay in order to lessen the massive scope of the story. Much like Titanic, the studios openly admit the film has enormous box office potential, but blogger Jim Hill suggested the film's start date was postponed due to Disney/Pixar and Warner Bros.' nervousness over the projected $200 million budget.
In 2009, MTV News reported that director Brad Bird had been scoutting locations. Information from Dalessandro indicated that the film would likely be shot in Vancouver, Canada, New Zealand or Australia.
In 2011, it was reported by Brad Bird that the film project was still being developed. The issues he raised was his difficulty in narrowing the scope of such a manner as to be true to the story within the constraints of practical film length.
"I don’t know. It’s all about getting the story to work, and the canvas is so big on it that it’s easy to bust down its movie-sized walls and go rampaging throughout the countryside. The problem has always been scaling it and containing it in a movie-sized length. It’s really a movie that wants to be a miniseries. But if you did it as a miniseries, then you’d have to do it for the small screen, and the story demands to be told on a big screen. So we’re still working on it." - Brad Bird
In February 2012, it was revealed that a rewrite of Dalessandro's script had been completed by Michael Hirst, and Brad Bird was now rewriting it yet again and in June The Atlantic was reported on Brave and detailed its lack of resemblance to earlier Pixar successes was due to it being the studio's first film to have not been directed and co-written by one or more members of its core team of John Lasseter, Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton, Brad Bird, and Lee Unkrich. Bird's absence from that project was reported to have been because "with the upcoming 1906", Bird was "branching out into live-action".
As of late 2012, Brad Bird abandoned the project after he and several other writers could not master the script, which had deviated extensively from Dalessandro's original novel and screenplay. Pixar and Disney have also abandoned the project, which is now in limbo at Warner Bros.