Losing the Director: When Has It Happened Before?

Losing the Director: When Has It Happened Before?

When a director is fired from working on a movie, what is the end result?


It was widely reported that Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired by Lucasfilm over creative differences on the upcoming untitled Han Solo Star Wars spin-off, and were replaced by Lucasfilm alumni Ron Howard. Earlier in the year, Zack Snyder stepped down from directing Justice League and Joss Whedon came in to take over – though in Snyder's case, he wasn't fired, but had to leave the project because of personal reasons. However, Whedon is directing the already planned reshoots and additional scenes, whereas Lord and Miller still had at least three weeks of filming left, plus the reshoots. Now, we are not entirely sure what Ron Howard will be doing, be it going back to the start and filming everything, redoing some scenes, or even just picking up where they left off. This is not unprecedented, as there have been several occasions where a director is fired and replaced with someone who will do what the studio wants. From famous movies to box office bombs, this has happened many times before and will happen again – and the best examples come from two very different superhero movies, made in two different eras.

Most notably, Superman II was being filmed within the same timeframe as Superman in 1977. The intention was to release the two movies a year apart, so that there would be as little of a gap between them as possible. However, Richard Donner, who was set to direct the two, was constantly under the review of the producers, and when Donner was going too far over budget, a relatively unknown Richard Lester was brought in to help guide production. As time was starting to run out, as the effects needed to be completed, Donner was instructed to focus more on the first film and pick up on the second one after the first one came out. He did so, but not without some footage already being shot for the sequel – including all the scenes involving Marlon Brando. When Superman came out in December 1978, it was a massive success, revitalizing the character and proving another Superman film would be profitable. It is still unknown why exactly Donner was fired, with different people giving different stories, but when production resumed on Superman II, Richard Lester was completely in charge, scrapping much of the 75% of the Donner footage. This caused a massive fallout with several actors, such as Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman – Hackman refused to return for reshoots, partially due to another commitment and the whole “we fired the director because we could” reason, and was replaced with a body double. Brando, however, sued the producers over the change and received a massive cut of the profits from Superman. For petty revenge, Brando's character was completely cut and never even mentioned again in the following three films – his scenes were later restored for the 2006 Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, which took the completed Donner footage and selected other scenes from the 1980 Lester cut, forming what many have said to be a vastly superior film. It should also be mentioned that John Williams could not return to compose the music, as he was committed to another 1980 project, The Empire Strikes Back, and that Richard Donner's wife, Lauren Shuler Donner, went on to produce the Marvel Comics X-Men series of films.

More recently, there was the controversial production on the 2015 reboot of Fantastic Four. After the highly praised found footage film Chronicle, the film's director, Josh Trank, was being courted for several projects in Hollywood. Meanwhile, Marvel had cemented themselves as one of the most successful film companies in the world, having completed “Phase One” of the MCU. 20th Century Fox, who owned and produced the X-Men franchise, was running out of time on the contract involving the rights to Marvel's “First Family,” the Fantastic Four – and doing a sequel was practically out, as Chris Evans was now portraying Captain America in the MCU. To keep rights, they put a full reboot of their 2005-2007 films into production, hiring Josh Trank to direct, and write the script along with Simon Kinberg and Jeremy Slater. The script was rumored to have the planet eater Galactus as the main villain (not unlike 2007's Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer), but the studio wanted something smaller – so rewrites were done, following the studio's demands. Once production began, however, Trank saw that he was not hired to actually direct, but do what the studio said to do and just call “action” and “cut.” This led to him constantly fighting with lead actor Miles Teller, reportedy destroying a hotel room, and showing up to the set drunk. During filming, the script's ending was rewritten, and Fox executives felt the film was too much like Chronicle (which was why they hired him in the first place), so they ordered extensive reshoots without Trank, bringing in Simon Kinberg. Kinberg was not credited, and his role has been downplayed to the point of it even being debatable whether or not he directed it, or it being somebody else (Bryan Singer and Matthew Vaughn are the other rumored names).The original Josh Trank cut was also heavily edited, removing entire storylines and dramatic moments, and bringing the runtime to just over an hour and a half. As reviews came in for the film in early August 2015, it was hovering around an 8% approval on Rotten Tomatoes, some saying it was even worse than Catwoman or Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Trank said on Twitter that he did once have a “fantastic” version of the film, and made it very clear that he did not like the final product. Actor Toby Kebbell, who portrayed Doctor Doom in the movie, backed up Trank's statement. Recently, more rumors are coming out about yet another Fantastic Four reboot, though there is a relatively large fan movement to get the characters returned to Marvel for use in film, or a deal not unlike Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Like with any job, directors can be fired for whatever reason – though more often than not, it's because they aren't working well with the executives. Sometimes that can work out – Superman II was not a bad movie by any means, but then again, there's the completely inconsistent Fantastic Four. We really won't know what is going to be the end result of the untitled Han Solo movie, but it's not like they got just anyone to come in – Ron Howard is a talented filmmaker and has said he wants to work with what Lord and Miller had, then do what he feels is best after. Which really, is the best way to do it. Instead of scrapping the previous director's work, see what they did that was great, and fix what wasn't. That way they aren't just pretending that footage was never made, but being able to take the two and make a good product. Until 2018, we won't know, but we can at least hope.

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