Caffeinated Clint : ‘Creative Differences’


Like Oscar and Felix, filmmakers and film studios need each other – but they don’t always get along. And, of late, it’d seem they’re a worse fit than a standard-size Trojan on John Holmes. With Sam Raimi giving the birdie to the “Spider-Man” franchise because of troubles with Sony, Darren Aronofsky not returning MGM’s calls over the “RoboCop” remake he committed to direct for them a couple of years  ago, Paul Greengrass just left the fourth “Bourne” film because he wasn’t seeing eye to eye with Universal, and Kenny Ortega still cursing Paramount over their plans for the film they’d asked him to direct, “Footloose” (he, like the abovementioned twosome, left over “creative differences” with the studio), it’d seem the age-old battle of artist vs. exec is alive more than ever.

Not that filmmakers and studios have ever really been the best of friends, anyway. And there’s one main reason for it – the filmmaker thinks it’s his film, but the studio knows it’s their film. That’s essentially what happened on “Spider-Man 4” – Raimi wanted to make his movie, but Sony quickly reminded him that he was simply a hired-gun working on a film of theirs. They promised he’d get his say this time around (unlike “Spider-Man 3” where he was forced to endure their ridiculous suggestions, such as adding new-age villain ‘Venom’ into the script), and he may have gotten a word in, but they seemingly didn’t listen – and didn’t think they had to. And technically-speaking, they’re probably right. They don’t have to. They’re the ones shelling out the money for the film, it’s their risk, so from an outsider’s perspective, yeah, Sony’s the boss and Raimi’s the pimply virgin working the Mash Potato machine behind the counter (which is exactly how new “Spider-Man” director Marc Webb will likely be treated – ‘Hey.. um, guy, here’s the script, shoot it! We’ve got to get down to Kenner to sign off on this toy deal’).

There’s so much money being thrown around on these big blockbusters that it’s unavoidable there’s going to stress, tension and arguments. Remember the whole Richard Donner/”Superman II” situation? Though that wasn’t a case of director vs. studio, it was still about a filmmaker coming to blows with those in charge of the money – I.e. those who believed they owned the picture. And again, they did. The producers, the Salkinds, weren’t happy with the job Donner was doing (some say they were simply trying to save money by cobbling something inferior together) so they fired him and replaced him with Richard Lester. As it turned out, that was a big mistake – “Superman II” was successful, but critically, it received a blasting. Had Donner stayed on the film, it likely would’ve been a more fluid, more enjoyable sequel with longer legs – thus, bringing in more cash at the end of the day (But as anyone who caught “Superman III” and “Superman IV” will attest to, the Salkind’s clearly weren’t interested in making ‘good’ films – they wanted a quick buck).

It was a similar situation with Mark ‘One Hour Photo’ Romanek’s “The Wolfman”. Romanek wanted more money – Universal didn’t care to open their wallets again. The filmmaker didn’t think the CGI was working, and insisted someone at Burbank slip a few more bucks into his account so he could perfect the Wolfman’s, er, Wolfman – but they refused. As a result, Romanek left the film. (Ironically, Universal has since sent millions trying to fix the film). In a few weeks, when the film is released, we’ll find out whether Universal was correct in telling the filmmaker (who was replaced by “Rocketeer” director Joe Johnston) that he ‘doesn’t need any more money’.

And there’s plenty more examples of filmmakers quitting films because they didn’t see eye to eye with the studio : John Frankenheimer on “The Island of Dr Moreau” (boy, did that blow up in the studio’s face!), Stephen Chow departed the director’s chair on Sony’s “The Green Hornet” because he didn’t like the way the film was headed (strangely enough, he was replaced by Michael Gondry), “Twilight” director Catherine Hardwicke was fired from the film’s sequel by Summit Entertainment, believing she wanted to make a different film than they did; and though he did end up directing it, “Golden Compass” director Chris Weitz (who, ironically, was who Summit hired to replace the aforementioned Catherine Hardwicke on “New Moon”) had quit the film when the book’s author, Philip Pullman, wrote and pleaded him to reconsider.

One of the most famous examples of a studio cutting a director free was when Fox2000 president Laura Ziskin flew thousands of miles to pink-slip “Ravenous” director Milcho Manchevski on the set of the film. According to the studio, the filmmaker wouldn’t let actors or crew members talk to him outside certain hours, he demanded he have luxury cars to ride around in, and he constantly refused to take meetings with the film’s producers. Still, the guy had a vision – a good vision, say some – and considering “Ravenous” ended up being one of the least successful films of its year, you’ve got to wonder whether Manchevski could’ve given Fox2000 not only a better film, but something that could’ve potentially made “more more than The Last Boy Scout” (sorry, personal joke. A video store rep for use to use that line all the time – and he was serious. Thing is, “Boy Scout” never made any money. Someone obviously neglected to tell him that). In its current state, that film is an absolute out-and-out shocker.

Fox and MGM are renowned for their filmmaker/exec disagreements (just ask Alex Proyas who, after directing “I, Robot” for Tom Rothman, says he’ll never work for them again) – Fox dumped Antoine from “Entrapment” over script issues, MGM dumped Geoffrey Wright from “Supernova” over the same thing – they couldn’t agree on the script, let alone a tone for the disastrous science-fiction pic.

I know only too well how many cooks are in the kitchen on some of these big productions, and I know how much money’s at stake, but shit, when are studios are going to realize that these films are only going to do better if they’re, well, good films?! By retaining Sam Raimi on “Spider-Man”, Richard Donner on “Superman”, Mark Romanek on “The Wolfman”, or Kenny Ortega on “Footloose”, the company, at the end of the day, would probably stand to make even more dough – not to mention appease the critics, too. In some circumstances, like say “New Moon” in which Chris Weitz replaced Catherine Hardwicke, audiences didn’t much notice because they were going to see the film no matter what (the film was the bigger than the director) but in the case of something like, “Spider-Man”, where audiences expect Sam Raimi’s unique vision and storytelling abilities to come into play, there will definitely be complaints when he’s replaced by some other sap – look what happened when Joel Schumacher replaced Tim Burton on the “Batman” series, or Donner on the “Superman” series, not only were the films not as good, but their inferiority reflected at the box office, too.

I heard this morning that Paul Verhoeven is off – for the meantime, anyway – the sequel to “The Thomas Crown Affair”. Much like Darren Aronofsky and “RoboCop”, Verhoeven wasn’t playing ball with MGM chairperson, Mary Parent, so he walked. It’s a pity – the cinema going world would no doubt love to see another big-screen commercially-driven picture from Verhoeven (“Total Recall”, “Robocop”) – it’s been way too long. But alas, what will probably happen is, Parent will hire someone without an opinion, let alone vision, to helm the Pierce Brosnan-starrer. Not that “Thomas Crown 2” was ever going to be on anyone’s ‘must see’ list, but still, I’m sure Verhoeven’s vision for the film would’ve been better than say, jo schmo point-and-click’s.

But when you’re holding the bag of cash, you’re in control – sad, but true.  And, by the looks of the trades stories, we better get used to it.

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Caffeinated Clint
Clint is the creator, editor and maintainer of Moviehole. Loves David Lynch, David Fincher... actually, any filmmaker by the name of David.