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15 Directors Unceremoniously Fired Or Replaced On A Movie

by The Playlist Staff
March 22, 2013 10:59 AM
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13th warrior
"The 13th Warrior" (1999)
Original Director: John McTiernan
Replacement Director: Michael Crichton
What Happened: In 1997 and early 1998, a teaser trailer was shown in North American and European cinemas for a movie called "Eaters of the Dead." The trailer tantalizingly promised a horrifically intense new movie from "the writer of 'Jurassic Park'" and "the director of 'Die Hard.'" That movie never came to pass, and in the summer of 1999, the film, now anonymously re-titled "The 13th Warrior," was quietly released into theaters (the studio didn't even pay for a glitzy premiere). While the "Eaters of the Dead" shoot was far from smooth (it started with an inability to cast Nordic actors, essential for the film's plot, which concerns a Muslim emissary abducted by a tribe of Vikings, and continued through the grueling 10-month-long shoot), by all accounts at the end of the day McTiernan and Disney had an intense, epic adventure, at least initially conceived as a kind of historically accurate retelling of the "Beowulf" story. The movie was shot in nearly complete secrecy, so the first time Disney saw the film was during a pair of lukewarm test screenings, at which point they installed Crichton as the chief creative voice on the project. Since McTiernan's shooting style didn't accommodate for much coverage, Crichton began chopping away at the original "Eaters of the Dead" cut (a scene that happened at the 20-minute mark in the original now occured something like four minutes in), deleting whole subplots like a romantic thread for Antonio Banderas' part and minimizing the character's Islamic qualities (a more conventionally rousing score, courtesy of Jerry Goldsmith, replaced the original music, which was a more Arabic-leaning affair by Graeme Revell,) Eventually Crichton replaced McTiernan in the director's chair, with both filmmakers filming new versions of the film's ending, on different stages of the same lot. All of Crichton's material won out and the McTiernan version remains, for now, a tantalizing what-if. The problems on "The 13th Warrior" also soiled plans for a proposed and hugely expensive adaptation of Crichton's novel "Airframe." Disney had paid handsomely for the rights and had installed McTiernan in the pilot's seat… Until his experience on "The 13th Warrior" left him with a bitter distaste for all things Crichton.

Gone With The Wind
“Gone With The Wind” (1939)
Original director: George Cukor
Replacement: Victor Fleming
What Happened: For one of the landmarks of American cinema, everything about “Gone With The Wind” on the page suggested a movie that could have turned out to be a disaster. Adapting Margaret Mitchell’s novel itself was no mean feat, with a variety of writers all taking a stab at it to try and get the story into reasonable shape. But that indecisiveness carried over to the movie itself. Despite spending two long years in pre-preproduction -- a chunk of which was spent trying to find the right actress Scarlett O’Hara -- George Cukor was dismissed three weeks into the filming, either due to clashing with Selznick over the script and rate of production, or with lead Clark Gable for personal reasons. Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland both tried to get Selznick to change his mind, but Victor Fleming, under contract to MGM and already working on “The Wizard Of Oz,” was then hauled in to take over on a movie that was behind schedule, and being rewritten as they were shooting. The intense working conditions eventually forced Fleming to exit temporarily citing exhaustion, with Sam Wood getting behind the camera for two weeks. However, by time production wrapped, Fleming’s contribution had been the most extensive among the three, and he ultimately received sole credit on the film.

The Wizard of Oz
“The Wizard Of Oz” (1939)
Original director: Richard Thorpe
Replacement: Victor Fleming
What Happened: While the resulting film is a joyous classic for the ages, the production was close to nightmare almost from the start. Richard Thorpe initially got things rolling on the Technicolor film, but after ten days filming was halted when Buddy Epsen -- the orginal Tin Man, eventually replaced by Jack Haley -- became critically ill due to the makeup being used. This temporary shutdown allowed producer Mervyn LeRoy to look over the footage and he decided he didn’t like Thorpe’s work, and George Cukor was brought in as a creative advisor. His major contribution was completely overhauling the makeup and costumes for Dorothy and The Wicked Witch, forcing all their scenes to be reshot. Victor Fleming was brought in when Cukor went to work on “Gone With The Wind,” but as you’ve just read, their paths would cross again. Fleming stuck with the creative direction Cukor had put together, and completed most of the filming until he was called into help on the Civil War epic. So to finish up the movie, King Vidor stepped in, shooting the sepia bookend sequences and “Over The Rainbow,” but like a true gent, stayed mum on his work until Fleming passed away.

Island Of Dr. Moreau
"The Island of Dr. Moreau" (1996)
Original Director: Richard Stanley
Replacement Director: John Frankenheimer
What Happened: Stanley, a South African music video director and cult sensation for a pair of high-minded genre oddities ("Hardware" and "Dust Devil"), had been developing a new version of "The Island of Dr. Moreau" for more than four years, finally securing a green light from New Line Cinema and the participation of Marlon Brando, who had agreed to play the titular doctor who created a colony of animal/human hybrids on his own private island. Val Kilmer, who was originally scheduled to play the role that wound up being portrayed by David Thewlis, was even more difficult than normal (he was going through a divorce) and, after demanding his role be cut by 40% (he was reassigned to play the doctor's assistant), delivered lines of dialogue that were garbled and unusable, in a performance said to be even more bizarre than what Brando's ended up being. The studio, blaming Stanley for Kilmer's insubordination, fired him, and brought in John Frankenheimer, who was drawn to the project because of the material and the chance to work with Brando. The problems, of course, didn’t stop there – Rob Morrow, originally cast in the role of the marooned UN ambassador, left with Stanley, and Frankenheimer saw a complete script overhaul, with pages being rewritten on the fly (Thewlis claims to have scripted most of his scenes himself). Kilmer, meanwhile, continued to terrorize everyone on set, which seemed to be a place of general unease, with the studio unhappy with the new direction Frankenheimer was taking but, at that stage in the game, unable to set things right. The finished movie showcases the hotbed of neuroses and creative second-guessing that permeated the set, although there are some things to admire, particularly Stan Winston's creature work and elements of Brando's bug-nuts performance (the scene where he has an ice bucket on his head is some kind of madcap classic); appropriately animalistic.

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  • John C | May 27, 2014 6:09 PMReply

    Interesting article but the writer should learn the difference between 'it's' (it is) and 'its' (possessive).

  • The Seeker | March 27, 2013 11:37 PMReply

    What about the Romanek/Wolfman fiasco? Many people though Romanek's career was over after dropping the movie (although in the end it was more of a bless to Romanek)

  • MFD | March 24, 2013 4:50 PMReply

    Other examples:

    Dick Richards didn't exactly get fired from the Burt Reynolds-Las Vegas vehicle "Heat" (not to be confused with Michael Mann's "Heat") but ended up leaving the project and being unable to return after being severely injured when Reynolds sucker-punched him as part of an ongoing series of disputes while Richards was shooting the picture. Reynolds' "autobiography" contains his version of the incident.

    Philip Kaufman began directing "The Outlaw Josey Wales" but clashed with star Clint Eastwood, who fired him and took over the direction, for which he is solely credited. Kaufman, who had re-written an earlier script by Sonia Chernus, retained received co-writing credit as "Phil Kaufman."

  • Tom Sutpen | March 24, 2013 1:06 PMReply

    Several I can think of:

    Erich von Stroheim is perhaps the first notorious example of a director being fired from a film ('Merry Go Round'; 1923) and replaced (by Rupert Julian).

    Josef von Sternberg was fired from 'The Exquisite Sinner' (replaced by Phil Rosen)

    Frank Capra was fired from several films in the twilight of his career; most notably 'Circus World' (replaced by Nicholas Ray who, after a heart attack, was replaced by Henry Hathaway). 'The Best Man' (replaced by Franklin Schaffner), and 'Marooned' (replaced by John Sturges)

    John Ford was bounced off the set of 'Pinky' (replaced by Elia Kazan)

    Akira Kurosawa was dismissed from 'Tora! Tora! Tora!' (replaced by Kinji Fukasaku)

    Billy Wilder was fired from 'The Bad Seed' (replaced by Mervyn LeRoy)

    Bruce Beresford was fired (by Clint Eastwood) from 'The Bridges of Madison County' (replaced by Guess Who)

    John Huston got handed his pink slip on 'Quo Vadis?' (replaced by Mervyn LeRoy), 'A Farewell to Arms' (Charles Vidor took over), and 'The Last Run' (replaced by Richard Fleischer).

    Robert Aldrich directed virtually all of 'The Garment Jungle' before Harry Cohn fired him and appointed Vincent Sherman to shoot the few days left on the schedule.

    Tony Richardson was fired from 'Mahogany' by aspiring Mogul Berry Gordy, then replaced by aspiring film director Berry Gordy.

    That's all I can think of offhand.

  • Steve | March 23, 2013 12:13 AMReply

    Matt Damon was going to make Promised Land his directing debut. However, another film he was acting in ran over schedule, and he wanted to spend more time with his family. So he decided not to direct, and got Gus Van Sant to direct, while Damon still starred and produced.

  • Stephen B | March 22, 2013 3:40 PMReply

    The only other incident I could think of that was missing was the rumored Spielberg takeover of Poltergeist. Tobe Hooper wasn't fired but rumors persist that Spielberg at the very least co-directed the film and has been called the "de facto director" by some of the cast.

  • Alex | March 22, 2013 2:01 PMReply

    What about David O. Russell replacing Darren Aronofsky on The Fighter?

  • Wasp | March 22, 2013 6:51 PM

    And he stayed on as producer afterwards.

  • Face | March 22, 2013 2:36 PM

    Darren dropped out on his own accord. Not fired or dimisssed, etc.

  • Jax | March 22, 2013 1:01 PMReply

    Peckinpah was fired from The Cincinnati Kid after three or four days of shooting, replaced by Norman Jewison. Scorsese was fired from The Honeymoon Killers after a few days of shooting. Kubrick was fired from One-Eyed Jacks, replaced by Brando. Dennis Hopper took over from some other director on Out of the Blue while it was already shooting. Dustin Hoffman started directing Straight Time but then replaced himself with Ulu Grosbard after watching the dailies.

  • TC | March 22, 2013 12:59 PMReply

    I remember reading that Kevin Jarre was fired from Tombstone and George P Cosmatos was then hired on as a sort of "puppet director" for actual-director Kurt Russell. There's a whole story there I bet.

  • Andrew | March 22, 2013 12:24 PMReply

    John Ford left Mister Roberts mid-shoot after punching Henry Fonda.

  • Andrew | March 22, 2013 12:22 PMReply

    John Ford left Mister Roberts mid-shoot after punching Henry Fonda.

  • yer | March 22, 2013 12:18 PMReply

    How can you not include Arthur Miller/John Frankenheimer and The Train??

  • yer | March 22, 2013 12:17 PMReply

    How can you not include Arthur Miller/John Frankenheimer and The Train??

  • yer | March 22, 2013 1:39 PM

    Oops I'm reading Elia Kazan's autobiography right now and he mentions Arthur Miller a lot so the names in my head.

  • yer | March 22, 2013 1:39 PM

    Oops I'm reading Elia Kazan's autobiography right now and he mentions Arthur Miller a lot so the names in my head.

  • yer | March 22, 2013 1:38 PM

    Oops I'm reading Elia Kazan's autobiography right now and he mentions Arthur Miller a lot so the names in my head.

  • Jax | March 22, 2013 12:51 PM

    Arthur Penn, not Miller.

  • Pedro Tavares | March 22, 2013 12:11 PMReply

    Repo Chick rules. So Searchers 2.0 and Revenger's Tragedy.

  • Jezzer | March 22, 2013 12:01 PMReply

    "Piranha" wasn't set in a water park.

  • Noah | March 22, 2013 11:51 AMReply

    Vincent Ward was booted off River Queen but was brought back later in the middle of post-production. Like all of his films, it has the makings of a masterpiece but the problems that went into making it show.

  • Robert Hunt | March 22, 2013 11:21 AMReply

    Depending on what stage you want to place their involvement (how far along did Cimino get on "The Dogs of War" or "Footloose" before being dropped?) , you can add Nick Ray on a handful of films, most famously "55 Days at Peking", Nicolas Roeg on "Hammett", John Ford on "Young Cassidy", Martin Scorsese on "the Honeymoon Killers", Robert Altman on "Ragtime" .

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