The news that Lynne Ramsay decided not to show up for work on Natalie Portman Western Jane Got A Gun was all the more shocking because it was the director herself who made the decision after what is usually diplomatically described as “creative differences.” But she’s not the first filmmaker to leave or – more frequently – get fired from a movie…
Director: Arthur Hiller
His directing career might not have been quite so stratospheric when he took the job, but Arthur Hiller was already well known for finding the funny (he would go on to make hits like Love Story, The Babe and Man Of La Mancha). Except, as it turns out, when it came to Showgirls writer Joe Eszterhas’ poke at the industry that made him oh-so-rich. In what could have looked like a publicity stunt - and with the famously loud-mouthed/headline-happy Eszterhas behind the project, no one would count it out - Hiller was so unhappy with the way the movie was edited by the studio that he asked to have his name removed from it. This request is all the more remarkable given that the film's plot finds a harried director (Eric Idle) desperate to use the industry pseudonym (Alan Smithee) for his latest, a dreadful action thriller. The result – which Hiller successfully wriggled free from, but which still stains his resume – ended up with four Golden Raspberry Awards. For more details on the farce that was Burn Hollywood Burn, be sure to check out our special Eric Idle podcast.
Director: Walter Hill
Another case of a director with a respected back catalogue hitting trouble, sci-fi flameout Supernova is actually credited to one Mr. Thomas Lee. Who's he? Well, he doesn’t actually exist: he’s one of several replacements for the old Alan Smithee cover story. After a tortuous development period that saw at least one director (co-writer William Malone) come and go, Hill stepped up to direct. The results were not pretty: he clashed with United Artists over re-shoots and tone and the film sat in limbo awaiting release. And that’s before rumoured new material added by The Hidden’s Jack Sholder that upped the zero gravity sex scenes but didn’t help anyone make sense of an already messy plot. Desperate producers brought in Francis Ford Coppola to try to edit together a cut that worked – with Hill ready to put his name back on if it did – to no avail.
Director: Brenda Chapman
When Brenda Chapman – Cal Arts alumna and friend of Andrew Stanton and others at Team Pixar – was hired to develop and direct her mythological tale The Bear And The Bow for the Emeryville studio behind Toy Story, Finding Nemo and more, there was much rejoicing. Finally, Pixar had a female director in the boys’ club! But it was not to be, as the film experienced a similar spasm to the studio's Ratatouille. Though no one has publically discussed what really happened, it appears to boil down to the studio's brain trust deciding that creative changes were needed which Chapman felt were wrong for the story. “Some other people that this has happened to have just disappeared and not done much afterwards," Chapman told The Huffington Post shortly after leaving. "But I didn't want to do that. I have a fighting spirit. I'm the youngest of five kids, so I’ve learned how to stand up for myself whenever I need to." Mark Andrews stepped in – see our podcast interview with him for more details - and Chapman retained a credit and was invited up to collect the Best Animated Feature Oscar at this year’s ceremony, so this one has a happy ending.
Director: Patty Jenkins
The sequel to Thor, part of Marvel’s Phase Two film collection, was a little more problematic than the original as it began its journey to the screen. Kenneth Branagh successfully brought Asgard’s finest to the big screen back in 2011 but returned only in a producing capacity for this one. The search for a director encompassed Dexter's Brian Kirk and ended with Monster’s Patty Jenkins, a surprising choice given her lack of blockbuster experience but one warmly welcomed by star Natalie Portman. Alas, despite Jenkins' declarations of love for the superhero genre, it was not to be. Jenkins left the film in December 2011 and was replaced by Game Of Thrones veteran Alan Taylor. As for Jenkins, Marvel announced that it would find some other movie for her to direct, but has yet to confirm anything. "I have had a great time working at Marvel," Jenkins told The Hollywood Reporter in an exclusive statement. "We parted on very good terms, and I look forward to working with them again."
Director: Ted Griffin
Aiming to capitalise on his success as a writer on films like Matchstick Men and Ocean’s 11, Ted Griffin wanted to break into the world of directing with an untitled script that was an ode to his Pasadena upbringing and focused on a young woman who discovers that her grandmother was the inspiration for The Graduate’s Mrs Robinson. Warner Bros. agreed to make it, and Griffin’s screenplay scored him a cast headed by Jennifer Aniston. But the trouble started just days after the film began shooting in July 2004 as producers – including Steven Soderbergh – learned that the production was already days behind after the first week. Griffin fired cinematographer Ed Lachman, but a few days after that, he himself was summoned to Soderbergh’s office and sacked. Rob Reiner stepped in to replace him, recast roles, made changes to the script and managed to finished the film, which ended up earning a modest $88 million worldwide. Griffin hasn’t returned to directing since then, but continues to work as a writer and producer.
Directors: Richard Thorpe, George Cukor, Victor Fleming, King Vidor
One of the more infamous examples of a big film swallowing up several directors, this iconic L. Frank Baum adaptation was originally supposed to be credited to Richard Thorpe. He was fired two weeks into the film, with all of his footage binned when he was booted. Criticised for failing to find the right tone and dressing Judy Garland’s Dorothy to look older than the character should have been, MGM were definitely not skipping down the yellow brick road. "He was a wonderful guy, Dick Thorpe," Mervyn LeRoy, the film's producer, says in Aljean Harmetz’s The Making Of The Wizard Of Oz. "He made some fine pictures. But to make a fairy story is a different type of thing entirely." Thorpe was replaced by George Cukor, who was himself called away to make Gone With The Wind (see the next entry) and Victor Fleming shot the majority of the movie. But it was King Vidor who actually finished it – notably filming the Over The Rainbow sequence - though he refused public credit until after Fleming’s death.
Director: George Cukor
Just one man was behind the game of musical director’s chairs on 1939’s two big movies: David O. Selznick, the producer behind Gone With The Wind and The Wizard Of Oz. It was Selznick who hired George Cukor to make Gone With The Wind, only for rumours to fly about vitriolic clashes between the two followed by a terse attempt at damage control when Cukor was eventually shown the door. "As a result of a series of disagreements between us over many of the individual scenes of Gone With The Wind, we have mutually decided that the only solution is for a new director to be selected at as early a date as is practicable." Victor Fleming was called away from working on The Wizard Of Oz to staunch the bleeding, only to suffer a nervous breakdown after 10 weeks and hand the final scenes over to Sam Wood. It’s Fleming’s name on the final cut, but Selznick is written all over it.
Director: Anthony Mann
Everyone knows that Stanley Kubrick directed Spartacus. But he wasn’t the first person hired for the job. That honour went to Anthony Mann, a veteran of Reign Of Terror, Winchester ’73 and Man Of The West. As it turned out, Roman epics were his – apologies for the cross-cultural phrasing here – Achilles’ heel. Mann was hired to do some work on Quo Vadis and was never credited for it, and then, after scoring the Spartacus job, was removed by Universal and star/producer Kirk Douglas. "It was clear that Tony Mann was not in control," Douglas wrote in his autobiography. "He let Peter Ustinov direct his own scenes by taking every suggestion Peter made. The suggestions were good for Peter, but not necessarily for the picture." Douglas brought in Kubrick who was conveniently available, as Marlon Brando had just fired him from a Western called One-Eyed Jacks. Some amongst the cast and crew laughed at the idea of the young Kubrick taking over. The rest is box office history.
Director: Martin Brest
Martin Brest, who had had success with Going In Style, was originally hired to take on the tale of a young computer hacker (Matthew Broderick) who stumbles onto some serious techno fear. But after two weeks he was fired by the studio and replaced with John Badham, who had to keep some of Brest’s work but changed the shooting style for the rest of the movie so completely that you can see the shift. Badham described seeing some of Brest’s footage in the scene where Broderick shows off his hacking skills to Ally Sheedy. “I'm looking at this and thinking, ‘What's wrong here?’” he told Wired. “Driving home that night, I realised what it was. I stopped the car, found a phone booth, and called Leonard (Goldberg, producer) ‘I know what the problem is!’ I said. ‘They're not having any fun!’ These kids were treating this as if they're involved in some dark and evil terrorist conspiracy. If I could change somebody's grades on the computer, I'd be peeing in my pants with excitement to show it to some girl.”
Director: Kevin Reynolds
The hurricane of bad luck and worse press that swirled around Waterworld was legendary even before the film was finished. With budget overruns, weather problems and logistical headaches aplenty, director Kevin Reynolds has readily acknowledged that he might have bitten off more than he could chew. “Because having never shot on water to that extent before, I didn't really realise what I was in for,” he told Den Of Geek in 2008. “I talked to Spielberg about it because he'd gone to do Jaws, and I remember, he said to me, ‘Oh, I would never shoot another picture on water.’” Reynolds, who had worked with Costner for years, finally quit before the final cut was locked down. Costner took over shooting and editing, with Reynolds telling Entertainment Weekly, “In the future Costner should only appear in pictures he directs himself. That way he can always be working with his favourite actor and favourite director." The two have since patched up their relationship and worked together much less stressfully on TV miniseries Hatfields & McCoys.
Director: Richard Donner
Though producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind tried to have Richard Donner shoot two films back to back to launch the Man of Steel in his Christopher Reeve incarnation, budget and scheduling issues forced a production halt before the second Superman film could be finished. And suchwere the flared tensions on set about tone that when the first movie proved to be a hit and the sequel could re-start, the Salkinds decided to cut Donner loose despite him having worked on around 75 per cent of the second film. In came Richard Lester, who re-shot several scenes with some re-written material, but couldn't work with Gene Hackman, who either refused or was unable to return. Donner later got some satisfaction via The Richard Donner Cut DVD release in 2006, thanks to editor Michael Thau, under the guidance of Donner and writer Tom Mankiewicz, who crafted a new version that features different takes on famous scenes, reincorporates lost footage of Marlon Brando's Jor-El, and fills in a number of plot holes.
Director: Tony Kaye
“My problem all through American History X was that I could never tell anyone what I wanted to do with the film,” Tony Kaye told the Guardian in 2002. “Sometimes I didn't even know myself. More often, I was so intimidated by the process that I went into meltdown if I wasn't left alone to work things out.” His experience still burns as one of the more controversial examples of what can happen when Hollywood egos and studio expectations rub up against a director less than inclined to sacrifice his vision. New Line hired Kaye off the back of impressive work in adverts and music videos, but executives weren’t happy with his first cut on the Edward Norton drama. Asked to make changes, he delivered a shortened edit that was also rejected. Locked out of the post-production process, Kaye watched as Norton took over editing, and warred with New Line in trade magazine ads. Speaking to The Onion’s A.V. Club in 2007, he was more reflective about the experience. “I'm very proud of a lot of American History X, and feel very embarrassed about my egotistical behaviour. If I had my way at the time, I'd be credited as Humpty Dumpty now and that's a funny but very painful thing for me to think about.”