Filmmakers Getting Fired

Thoughts from a Director

In the “film world”, the big news this week was the firing and/or resignation of Phil Lord and Chris Miller from the Han Solo movie. I don’t care a whole lot about the machinations of big studios but as of late there has been a good deal of this happening. Also, directors quitting/leaving projects in film history has been a fascinating subject to me.

As a filmmaker who has been fired/quit (often it’s hard to tell which one it really was), I have some thoughts either way on this recent situation and others like it. In 2015, I stepped away in post-production from a film once titled Recession Road which I was hired to direct/produce and rewrite (that part was uncredited). To say the least, I had conflict from the person who hired me. After a rocky production was complete, my team and I started to cut the film together. Our delivered rough cut was met with demands for reshoots, many of which I did not think were necessary (and felt that opening that door would lead down the rabbit hole). So I quit… or was fired. Who knows. The movie was partially reshot, retitled and I haven’t heard much about it since. Either way, it happened to me like it’s happened to many directors since the dawn of film.

So when I read this in the news, I decided to share some thoughts. To review the case at hand:

According the sources I’ve checked, Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired from the Han Solo film by the producers/studio for “creative differences”, a phrase often used in these situations. One article even suggested that the directors’ use of improvisation, deviation from the script and determination to make the movie more of a comedy than a “space fantasy” were the main reasons for getting the ax. Just last year there was drama like this when reports suggested director Gareth Edwards lost some creative control in the reshoots of another Star Wars movie, Rogue One. The face put on by the big wigs in charge was all hunky dory but it’s not usual for another director/writer to be hired to reshoot/rewrite parts of your movie. Rumor was the film changed a good deal from whatever Edwards had in mind and originally delivered. Again, who knows. But all this is eventually leading to two points with a perspective from either side of the coin.

1. Emerging filmmakers need to stop taking studio gigs if they can’t play ball.

The current trend seems to be that big studios hire emerging filmmakers, with some indie breakout hit, to make one of their blockbusters for millions of dollars. Example: Gareth Edwards went from making a million dollar (great) sci-fi movie Monsters to being hired for Godzilla then Rogue One, both exponentially larger in budget/scale. I doubt he had near as much creative control on the latter as he did Monsters. Perhaps he didn’t care. But somewhere along the way he didn’t play ball, shot the film in a way the studio didn’t like, it was taken away from him and changed. He kept quiet and took it.

Josh Trank, another indie film breakout, ran into major issues when making Fantastic Four and was then fired from a Star Wars movie before it even started shooting. This recent event with Lord and Miller is a bit different. They seem a little more engrained in the studio system but clearly did not understand that when you get hired to make one of these movies, you make it the way they want. Do any of these guys know how Hollywood works and always has worked?

Now there’s blame to be given to the bosses to, but these filmmakers deserve a slap on the hand for going in to major studio projects with some kind of notion of individuality. When I look at the careers of emerging directors, I see each of them come to a fork in the road: 1. One path leads to creative freedom. 2. The other path leads to big-budget tent pole pictures.

They need to make a clear decision about what kind of director they want to be, as Nicholas Winding Refn seems to have done so far. He had opportunities to take the helm of giant projects after the success of Drive. He did not. Instead, Refn made a couple films less than the budget of his breakout. Why? He wants to make films the way he sees them.

Wake up and smell the coffee, guys and girls. Don’t get into that game if you can’t play ball.

2. Studios need to stop hiring edgy filmmakers.

“Edgy” may not be the best term but by Hollywood standards just about anything other than right down the middle is on the edge. Why are the big studios hiring these directors? I suppose they see success out of Sundance or another festival and get giddy, dumping the responsibility of 50 million or more in the lap of a filmmaker with an independent title or two under his or her belt. It doesn’t make good sense to me.

Look at how they used to hire directors for the Bond series. They selected directors who my company partner Gus Edwards would call “studio pros”. These guys, like Terence Young, knew how to deliver on time and give the bosses what they wanted. But nowadays, the people making the decisions seem to have no understanding of this. They’re setting themselves up for issues.

It was announced that Ron Howard is taking over as director of the Han Solo movie. Yes! Howard is exactly the kind of filmmaker they should be hiring for these projects. He makes bland and totally enjoyable motion pictures. They don’t challenge or push boundaries; they deliver. Maybe lead producers like Kathleen Kennedy will learn a lesson this time. Probably not though.

I learned from that experience being fired off a film. Would I take a job as a “director for hire” again? Absolutely. But I would know going in to do my best job and keep my mouth shut. I’d ask for a bigger paycheck and do the reshoots. I wouldn’t try to create anything special; I would just do what they asked me to do. That’s what they want.

-Travis Mills

This content was republished with permission from the author.  To view more articles by Travis Mills, visit his website runningwildfilms.com

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