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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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“Ratatouille”/“Brave”/“Toy Story 2”/“Cars 2” (2007/2012/1999/2011)
Original Directors: Jan Pinkava/Brenda Chapman/Ash Brannon/Brad Lewis
Replacement Director: Brad Bird/Mark Andrews/John Lasseter/John Lasseter
What Happened: Pixar is often painted as a kind of idyllic creative utopia where people ride rainbow-powered scooters to their offices and nobody ever argues about anything. But that simply isn’t the case. In fact, there are just as many large-scale creative disagreements (if not more so) inside the hallowed halls of Pixar as there are in any other studio. Take, for example, the directorial change-overs that befell four large-scale Pixar projects. With “Ratatouille,” the project was under the creative leadership of Jan Pinkava, who had won an Oscar for his short film “Geri’s Game.” His original version of “Ratatouille” was more ethereal (lengthy sequences were set in a kind of sensory fantasy realm; holdovers from this idea can be seen in the film’s videogame adaptation) and lacked a concrete story. Pixar, worried about the film’s commercial chances, especially given that “Ratatouille” was to be the first Pixar movie released outside of their partnership with Disney (Disney later bought the studio for a staggering sum), fired Pinkava and replaced him with Brad Bird, who had to overhaul the script, animation and character designs in a condensed 18-month period. Thankfully, it turned out to be one of Pixar’s most satisfying masterpieces and a sly commentary on Disney/Pixar relations at the time. On “Toy Story 2” and “Cars 2,” Pixar bigwig John Lasseter stepped in when the ship was being steered into unsteady waters. “Toy Story 2” was supposed to be a direct-to-video sequel, but when Lasseter and others got a look at some of the footage they realized that a) the good stuff was really good, good enough in fact for a theatrical release and b) the story was unsalvageable and needed to be restarted from scratch. Again, 18 months out, Lasseter and his team turned it around. On “Cars 2,” the franchise was left in the hands of producer and inexperienced director Brad Lewis, who wasn’t turning things around in a satisfying way in the eyes of the higher-ups, so Lasseter, who was also dealing with his newfound responsibilities as the creative head of all things Disney, had to try and get it into shape. The saddest and most acrimonious creative disagreement happened over last year’s “Brave,” which was set to be the first Pixar film to be directed by a woman. A self-styled “feminist fairy tale,” one that was deeply personal to director Brenda Chapman (it was based on her relationship with her daughter), but Disney removed Chapman as director and installed Mark Andrews in her place, a little more than a year before the movie was due in theaters. Out went the movie’s dark tone and snowy setting, in went broad physical comedy and a lush green landscape that the Scottish tourism board plans on milking for the next decade (seriously). Chapman and Andrews shared the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, but perhaps most tragically Chapman decamped from Pixar to head Lucas’ Lucasfilm Animation, only to have it gobbled up a few months later by Disney…

“Spartacus” (1960)
Original Director: Anthony Mann
Replacement Director: Stanley Kubrick
What Happened: After first choice David Lean turned the film down, star Kirk Douglas (who was also executive producing) hired veteran Anthony Mann to direct "Spartacus," the tale of the gladiator who leads an ill-fated rebellion of slaves against the Roman Empire. But after a week of shooting in Death Valley, Douglas was unhappy with the way that Mann was lensing the picture, later writing in his autobiography, "He seemed scared of the scope of the picture." Though it's always been suspected that there was more going on: the scope of the surviving scenes that Mann shot seems fine, and as if to prove Douglas wrong, the filmmaker went on to direct epics "El Cid" and "The Fall Of The Roman Empire." In his place, Douglas hired the then 30-year-old Stanley Kubrick, who'd previously directed him in "Paths of Glory." It was a far bigger project that Kubrick had ever tackled before, and it caused some unrest among the crew, with DoP Russell Metty particularly objecting. But the results, as we all know by now, turned out pretty well.

Exorcist The Beginnings

Exorcist: The Beginning” (2004)
Original Director: John Frankenheimer, Paul Schrader
Replacement Director: Renny Harlin
What Happened: One of the more fascinating, and baffling, instances of a director switch-up came on the prequel to horror classic "The Exorcist." Fourteen years on from "The Exorcist III," and with a then-recent re-release of the original having proven a hit, Morgan Creek Productions were keen to give the franchise a new lease of life, and commissioned a script from novelist Caleb Carr (later rewritten by William Wisher) that would tell the story of Father Merrin's first encounter with the demon Pazazu. And it was clear that they weren't just after a cheap knock-off; they first approached the legendary John Frankenheimer to direct, and when he pulled out due to health problems (he passed away only a month later, sadly), they replaced him with Paul Schrader, the writer of "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull," a man hardly known for commercial fare. The film was shot and completed, with Stellan Skarsgard stepping in for Max Von Sydow as the young Father Merrin, but when Schrader turned in his cut to Morgan Creek, the studio thought the film would be too uncommercial, and took the almost unprecedented step of shelving Schrader's near-complete take, which had cost them $30 million, and bringing in a new writer (Alexi Graham), and director ("Die Hard 2" helmer Renny Harlin) to make another film of essentially the same story, with many of the cast, including Skarsgard, returning. Predictably, Harlin's version, which cost an additional $50 million, was eviscerated by critics when it was released in August 2004, and it took only $78 million worldwide, less than the combined production cost of the two films. Desperate to squeeze some additional coin out, Morgan Creek then relented, letting Schrader complete his version, and putting it into limited release in May 2005, under the title "Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist." . It's a more thoughtful film than Harlin's, certainly, but not all that much better, if we're being honest. So Sean Durkin, who's developing a TV version of the story, should be very careful....

American History X
“American History X” (1998)
Original Director: Tony Kaye
Replacement Director: Edward Norton (sort of)
What Happened: Probably the most notorious such story from the 1990s, Tony Kaye wasn’t exactly fired from his searing 1998 American racism drama “American History X,” but he was replaced in the editing room by his star Edward Norton (something that’s affected both their reputations since). Kaye was by all accounts a total mess even from the casting stage, he apparently shot a million feet of film and some reports say Kaye struggled for months trying to come up with a final edit. A Vanity Fair piece from 2003 reported that Kaye delivered an edit that New Line liked, but also let Norton into the editing room to try out his own version. Much to Kaye’s chagrin, the move backfired and New Line liked Norton’s cut better and wanted to release that one. Kaye "overreacted monstrously," one of the producers recalled and, "decided that, oh no, now enormous changes have to be made in the film. Throw out half the movie, create a new character, go back to filming, take another year to work on it-stuff that he knew was a cartoonish reaction." New Line gave Kaye eight weeks to figure things out and Kaye instead responded with deeply childish reactions, including eventually putting out ads in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter attacking the producers and demanding his directorial credit be changed to “Humpty Dumpty.” All of his attempts at sabotaging his own film failed, though the very solid-drama was almost overshadowed by all the controversy around the movie which is now the stuff of legend (Kaye even brought a rabbi, a Catholic priest, and a Buddhist monk to a New Line meeting wherein he begged for more time; the same time he wasted causing publicity stunts). The absurd spectacle that Kaye made of himself definitely damaged his career, but the filmmaker has released films since (the powerful abortion documentary “Lake of Fire,” though his thriller “Black Water Transit,” is still in limbo due to the Capitol Films/David Bergstein fiasco of 2010). As for Norton, he gained a reputation for being...hands on.... He tangled with Marvel over his rewrite of “The Incredible Hulk," and is said to have largely rewritten chunks of Julie Taymor's "Frida" as well, but his recent efforts with strong writers like Tony Gilroy and Wes Anderson suggest he's more than willing to respect a talented scribe.

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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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