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I Have Altered The Auteur, Pray I Do Not Alter It Further

by Salim Garami

What's good? This is opening weekend for Solo: A Star Wars Story, a Disney/Lucasfilm production that saw a bit of behind-the-scenes drama. It's hardly the first production of the space opera franchise to be so contentious: Rogue One had Tony Gilroy take over post-production in lieu of director Gareth Edwards and the still in-production Star Wars Episode IX interrupted its development when Colin Trevorrow stepped down as director to J.J. Abrams, returning from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

After the jump, more on Solo and five films that had survived such a director change to a decent reception after the jump...

It's not a new development within Star Wars, but Solo has been the most public and intense of those scenarios. The original directors hired, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, were fired five months into filming and replaced by Ron Howard. The circumstances of the duo's dismissal is up for debate - some accounts claim it was due to their comedy angle (as per their specialty), others that they misunderstood directing a large-scale production, others that writer and Star Wars veteran Lawrence Kasdan was dismayed by their lack of fidelity to his script - but the result of the news was clear: audiences were wondering if the movie could hold up in the face of such a significant reset in the middle of the film's making.

Changing a director outside of pre-production is uncommon, but not exactly damning. Here are five films that turned out well in the end...

The Phantom of the Opera (1925) - By the time Edward Sedgwick was involved in directing Universal Studios' silent adaptation of Gaston Leroux's serialized novel, it was essentially completed but not at all to the liking of star Lon Chaney or producer Carl Laemmle. Earlier on they demanded that original director Rupert Julian relax on the Gothic tones and perhaps lean more into a comedic atmosphere for the horror film to which Julian responded by leaving the film. Sedgwick (a frequent collaborator of Buster Keaton) was hired to create and shoot the new material with the levity Julian avoided, but after test audiences responded to Sedgwick's cut with extreme hostility, Universal rushed to remove Sedgwick's material and restore as much of Julian's as possible (with help from Lois Weber), thereby undoing the undoing of one of horror cinema's early masterpieces.

Gone with the Wind (1939) - It has long been recognized that this classic adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's Reconstruction era story was more the baby of its producer David O. Selznick than its directors, which explains why there is so many of them beginning with Selznick's main man, George Cukor. Gone with the Wind eventually turned out to be the production where their disagreements caused a severance of their 7-year working relationship less than a month into shooting. Selznick ended up bringing in Victor Fleming from another MGM 1939 classic production, The Wizard of Oz. Fleming ended up staying on over three months, but the shoot was evidently taxing enough that he had to take two weeks off to be replaced by Sam Wood before returning to finish one of the quintessential films of classic Hollywood.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) - Victor Fleming commandeering from this film into Gone with the Wind practically intertwines the production of both films into a chaotic revolving door of directors (George Cukor was also involved in The Wizard of Oz as a glorified advisor). Richard Thorpe was already replacing Norman Taurog when filming commenced before producer Mervyn LeRoy decided that the rushed production is affecting the quality of the film and replaced him "officially" but only briefly with Cukor, unable to commit because of Gone with the Wind. After Cukor bowed out without shooting any footage, Victor Fleming stepped in to facilitate the vision Cukor and LeRoy had decided on together. Unfortunately, Selznick seized Fleming to complete his Civil War epic, but LeRoy was able to score the legendary King Vidor to finish off mostly the sepia-toned bookends of the film which left The Wizard of Oz with two distinct shifts of style between the settings of monochrome Kansas and Technicolor Oz. The result of this happy accident is a dynamic visual banquet.

Tombstone (1993) - The Western reeenactment of the Earp Vendetta starring Kurt Russell was originally intended to be writer Kevin Jarre's directorial debut, but he quickly proved unable to meet the responsibilities of the position as he failed to get the necessary shots and pushed the production well behind schedule. After he was fired a month into filming, Italian veteran George P. Cosmatos took charge and was able to hardline the production (even with a couple of conflicts involving cinematographer William A. Fraker) to get the film prepared for a late 1993 release to reviews positive enough to convince Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert to catch and review the film after earlier deciding they might have to miss it. There has been some late speculation that Russell himself also took some responsibility for the creative aspects of the film.

The Emperor's New Groove (2000) - Shifting directors in the middle of production is not a rarity at all in the animation world (see also: Brave and The Good Dinosaur), but even by those standards the production of the Disney musical animated project Kingdom of the Sun was an extremely stressful affair. A struggle for no more than Roger Allers who had fought tooth and nail for this passion project to get made only to face an ultimatum by Disney when it was taking to long to make the Summer 2000 deadline, a deadline Allers stated he could not make and bowed out in the face of. Disney then opted for a complete rehaul of the quarter-animated film's style under remaining co-director Mark Dindal, getting rid of the musical element (composed by Sting, whose wife famously documented the production in the buried film The Sweatbox), turning it into a comedy, redesigning it to be jazzy, recasting a majority of the actors, and prepping it for an underperforming December 2000 release with a still decent amount of critical acclaim.

If you've seen Solo: A Star Wars Story, do you think it survives the director change? If you haven't, do you think it will make it out in one piece? Are there any other movies you know of with production disputes that you admire? Tell us in the comments!

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Reader Comments (6)

The Island of Dr. Moreau was originally going to be a film helmed by Richard Stanley as his big major-studio film debut but 3 days into shooting, he was fired and then replaced by John Frankenheimer who basically ruined everything while Stanley was in hiding to see what was going on. It was a total clusterfuck.

May 27, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

the pretension that Miller and Lord wouldn't understand what meant to direct a big budget blockbuster, after the 21st Jump Street franchise, the Cloudy with the Chance of Meatballs franchise and The Lego Movie franchise... is ridiculous. It has more with Disney scared of the depth and meta-power the duo injects in their comedy. So far, to me, they're 6 for 6 (including their producing efforts in Lego Batman and CwCoM 2) always delivering something brilliant and poignant, including the absolute MASTERPIECE that The LEGO Movie is...

... and Disney chose, of all directors, the most impersonal artisan out there, who has an Oscar for "directing"... Ron Howard... sure he made some great films (Apollo XIII, Backdraft, Parenthood, Rush), but he tends to deliver middle-point Hollywood projects (Cocoon) or sometimes, direct crap (A Beautiful Mind... how it won Best Picture and Director is still proof of the power of marketing over weaker minds).

May 27, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJesus Alonso

I need to add... "The Emperor's New Groove" is one, probably, of my 5 fave 2D Disney animated offerings. Rewatchable and enjoyable to the extreme, a film that - finally - fully embraces its toon heritage, rather than pretend to be a Broadway musical, and conveniently desguises a queer Disney Prince(ss) - come on, he obviously is.

May 27, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJesus Alonso

Ron Howard is good old school movie director- he would have prospered in the studio era. I have no seen "Solo" but I hope it's better than the last dreadful "Star Wars" movie. Auteur theory is only relevant if you have a director with a strong visual style- Hitchcok, Kubrick, Welles- these days the closest we have is Christopher Nolan

May 27, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterjaragon

Did not seem to be a problem. Howard also has a good command of comedic material. The only problem would be if Howard had to make changes that moved the movie closer to the original script, because I believe the script was where the movie let the audience down (my comments are on the movie review post.)

@ jaragon - I think when you watch a Tarantino film, you know whose film you are watching, and a lot of that is related to his visual style.

May 27, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCarl

@Carl- I agree about Tarantino

May 27, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterjaragon

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