Caffeinated Clint : Milcho fights back!

You’ll recall about a week ago I wrote an article titled “Creative Differences” exploring the various reasons and consequent repercussions of filmmaker/studio disparagement’s.

In addition to tackling the much-discussed exit of Sam Raimi from the “Spider-Man” series, I spoke of some lesser-known on-film brawls like, the incident between then-Fox2000 prez Laura Ziskin and ‘’Ravenous’’ director Milcho Manchevski, which resulted in the allegedly “difficult” filmmaker getting the boot from said film.

One thing I couldn’t help but notice, when searching the web for further information on the case, was that everyone but Manchezski had spoken out on the situation; we’d never heard his side of the story. Some might say that’s simply choosing a no-comment approach in the hope that everyone soon forgets about his wrongdoings on the film, but others might be of the assumption that the all-powerful studio has bullied him into keeping quiet – fearing the ‘truth’ might get out.

Lo-and-behold guess who I heard from earlier this week? One Milcho Manchevski!

After a decade of keeping dead quiet about what sounds like an inequitable discharge, the Macedonian-born filmmaker is now ready to open up about the prickly experience of working with Fox2000 on “Ravenous” – and hopes he’ll be judged more fairly than he was by the entertainment rags, who were quick to label him ‘the bad guy’ when news got out that he’d split from the production in 1999.

Rather than ease into the conversation, and keep it fairly ambassadorial, Manchevski gets right to the point:
“Ziskin wanted to micromanage the project and to direct vicariously. She was vetting the smallest non-speaking bit of cast, rejected Tom Waits – who had agreed to act in the film, rejected a brilliant composer (Zbigniew Preisner who scored Kieslowski’s films) and insisted on turning this intelligent, dark, quirky script into a scream knock-off.”

(Star Robert Carlyle would back up those claims, stating in an interview that “[his] vision of the whole thing was an awful lot darker than they had bargained for; that’s basically what was going on there. He’s seen very very dark. In simple terms, Manchevski was looking at Deliverance, and Fox were looking at Scream.”)

For those who never caught it, “Ravenous” was a dark comedy, originally intended to be a horror flick, about a group of military misfits in Sierra Nevada following the Mexican-American War in 1847. A madman turns up at their outpost and it isn’t long before the troops learn he’s a cannibal.

Manchevski had recently directed “Before the Rain”, a drama about ill-fated love affairs, that’d won the Golden Lion for Best Film at the Venice Film Festival when he was hired to direct “Ravenous”.
Manchevski says when it became he didn’t want to direct a popcorn film, but something a little more meaningful, he was let go (just two weeks into production).

“I refused to be told how to direct by a suit – and I told her that she didn’t have the creative credentials to tell me what to do, so she brought instead the director of Home Alone 3 to replace me! When the crew and cast rebelled, the studio brought in their lawyers and yet a third director (Antonia Bird). The director of photography and the editor walked, but the actors had to complete the film.”

Manchezski suggests I get in touch with the film’s star Guy Pearce, who he said will gladly back up his claims. But no need, Pearce has said plenty of times that it was Hollywood who ruined that experience for him – and the consequential film.

“That whole experience was a nightmare, an absolute nightmare for about four and a half months.”, Pearce said. We did two weeks of filming and then the studio came over and said, ‘The director’s not doing what we want him to be doing,’ and we actors said, ‘Well, he’s doing exactly what we thought he’d be doing…. the studio wanted to make Brain 3, a good teenage horror movie that would sell for billions of dollars. There was a clash of idea’”.

Manchevski says he was shocked to read, shortly after the “Ravenous” experience, that he’d been let go from the film because he was far too demanding, hard on his cast, and couldn’t get along with the studio.

“I come from a school that believes that creative authorship cannot be bought with money. The studio planted articles (most notably in premiere) full of lies – for example, I spent weeks rehearsing and hanging out with the actors and crew, which is the opposite of saying that I only allowed them to talk to me during certain hours; I had no car while on location, so the story about expensive cars is a fabrication.

“I was offered a lot before Ravenous — dozens and dozens, read hundreds of scripts. I started working on Three Kings – but we disagreed over locations, A Perfect Murder, The Devil’s Own, The Quiet American…. but I didn’t like the lack of creative freedom, and was more interested in making dust, a film I did with another Aussie, a brilliant actor, David Wenham”.

Manchevski doesn’t sound like he’s in hurry to return to Hollywood – and not just because he’d find it hard to get a job.

“Ravenous did damage as far as getting another studio film off the ground, but in a way it was a mute point, as I decided that Hollywood has nothing to offer except money — no creative results, no creative process, no honest people nor friendships…”

Though based in New York, Manchevski has been working in Europe ever since.

And ‘Ravenous”? The film went on to gross $2,062,405 domestically, far less than its reported $12 million budget.

Guess nobody came out a winner.