When news got out that Christopher Miller and Phil Lord were “parting ways” with Star Wars‘ latest anthology film, the yet untitled Han Solo project, there was a universal “what the heck?” moment.
While those on the inside may have saw this coming with months of tension building between the directors of The Lego Movie and Lucas Film head honcho Kathleen Kennedy, it caught the rest of us off guard and wondered how they expected to replace directors this late in the process. There was only 3 weeks of scheduled shooting left and most agreed that’s pretty late in the game to make a major change like that. Everyone did agree that it would require a seasoned director capable of stepping in and picking up the pieces, and they’ve found one in long time, award winning director Ron Howard.
But the fact is, while certainly not the norm, the Hollywood film industry has a very long history of directors leaving production at all different stages in the process. Being fired is almost a right of passage and some say you haven’t made it in the film business until you’ve been replaced.
One of great stories from Hollywood legend is that in 1939 when George Cukor was fired from Gone With the Wind, guilty of not getting along with the writers and Clark Gable, he was replaced by famed director Victor Fleming. Not unusual for the time as back then studio’s flipped staff more easily as they were all under contract. It’s not until you learn that Cukor was also replaced by the same Fleming just months earlier, this time on The Wizard of Oz, is when it gets peculiar. And while that’s a tough pill for Cukor, it’s hard to argue with the results in either instance.
Animation studio Pixar has a long history of replacing directors after production has started. In fact, there was director changes on hits such as Toy Story 2, Ratatouille, Cars 2 and Brave. Seemingly all good moves on their part as those films would go on to great success, especially Ratatouille with Brad Bird getting all the credit.
Terry Gilliam, no stranger to his own on set rumblings, famously replaced director Alex Cox on Hunter S. Thompson’s, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. This was after Cox and star Johnny Depp didn’t see eye to eye and most everyone hated the script. Ironically, one of the very public slights against the script by Gilliam was Cox’s use of animation in the story, something as we all know, Gilliam would end up using in the finished product.
The original plan for Richard Donner was to shoot Superman I and Superman II at the same time. But before he could finish part II (he was about 75% done) he had to stop production and turn his attention to editing the first Superman in order to meet it’s release date. Even though Donner promised to return to the already troubled and over-budget film, Warner Bros. fired him and brought in Richard Lester instead. Certain actors refused to return for re-shoots to Lester had to piece together already shot footage and make due. To this day there at two different cuts of the film, most preferring the Donner cut to the one that was released.
Other famous director swaps were Brad Pitt’s Moneyball (2011), Edward Norton’s American History X (1998), Marlon Brando’s The Island of Dr. Moreau(1999) and Kirk Douglas’s Spartacus (1960). And trust me, there are many, many more.
So, while this seems shocking at first, it’s really not that abnormal by Hollywood standards. It does however bring in to question how Lucas Film and Kennedy operate as there were reported issues with Gareth Edwards on the set of Rogue One as well, especially when it came to reshoots. There’s a long standing belief that Kennedy has an auteur like grip from the producers chair and the director is just a seat filler. Having said that I’ve never heard any grumblings from J.J. Abrams or Rian Johnson…yet.
Till next time…