Wednesday, June 28, 2017

More Details on Firing of Han Solo Directors

Through various "insiders", The Hollywood Reporter is providing more details on what went wrong that caused Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy to fire Han Solo directors' Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street) and replace them with Ron Howard (The DaVinci Films, A Beautiful Mind, etc.) along with a healthy push from screen writer Lawrence Kasdan (Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens, Raiders of the Lost Ark..aka the writer that helped build Lucasfilm). The result doesn't make anyone look good except Kasdan who ultimately was doing what all writers try to do and that is protect their script. He just happens to have the real heft to back it up given his legendary career.

- Signs that the big budget, high studio pressure and oversight, created friction along with them relying "too heavily on the improvisational style that served them so well in live-action comedy and animation but does not work on a set with hundreds of crew members waiting for direction." (In short not decisive early enough and fast enough so can make whatever changes are needed be it to the set, costumes, makeup, etc. Something can sketch out in a computer in a few hours can take days for live-action).

- A "deep fundamental philosophical differences" in directing styles between how Lord and Miller did it versus what Kennedy and Kasdan were expecting. (Basically comedy directors being asked to do serious/sarcastic)

- The lack of camera setups, changing camera placements while shooting takes of a scene, resulting in "few angles that had been shot did not provide a wealth of options to use in editing a movie." (In general adds cost but reduces need for re-shoots that can also be costly.)

- Expectation from Kasdan to read lines as scripted, no improvisation. The "solution" was a few takes with the lines read as written before shifting to improvisational takes and providing more setups for those takes to insure their use.

- Despite lack of setups, frequently starting late and taking a long time to shoot the few setups they did get each day. (Usually reducing setups is supposed to speed up filming and reduce costs. It is how TV does it on a daily basis so for it to take even longer is a red flag.)

- Meanwhile, Lord and Miller felt they "were never given enough days for each scene from the very beginning" with "extreme scheduling constraints." (Of note is filming started in February to originally go through July so that makes zero sense. Most films take three to four months, not six.)

- An attempt was made to bring an outside director to "support" Lord and Miller but they rejected that. (Not surprising considering how Tony Gilroy "supported" Gareth Edwards out of the directing and post-production editing chair on Rogue One.)

- Lucasfilm had to bring in an acting coach for Han Solo lead Alden Ehrenreich which in itself isn't rare but usually addressed in pre-production and not late into production. (This doesn't necessarily mean Alden can't act, just may mean he isn't good at the improvisational comedy the director's wanted.)

Basically my read is Kathleen Kennedy made an error in hiring Lord and Miller. She thought she was hiring outside the box directors that could adapt to the serious but sarcastic take of Han Solo while Lord and Miller thought they were hired to bring they same improvisational comedy as seen in their previous movies. Usually once it becomes clear that those holding the budget strings doesn't necessary like that approach, directors will modify accordingly (the boss changing approach is a non-starter as anyone with a boss will tell you). That didn't happen here and instead they dug in probably thinking getting fired was an impossibility. Which is a shame as I think they missed a chance to move away from being "just" comedy directors and proving they could handle pretty much any film of any size and any tone. Now they are permanently pigeon-holed as "comedy directors" as studio executives will not want to risk another "Star Wars debacle" that Lucasfilm can afford but not all movies can.

An example is The Flash is rumored to be next on their list. However, they already fumbled the ball once and The Flash is likely close to tone to Han Solo with a serious approach but comedic moments. Even if they wanted to make an improvisational Flash film (and like Alden Ehrenreich, nothing in Ezra Miller's background suggests he as the skill set for that), the special effects requirements would make that very difficult to execute. If I was Warner Bros. I would dig into the details of what went wrong on the Han Solo movie, compare it to the current script of The Flash and verify the parallels in likely director execution are not going to create a repeat of the problem before I re-offer the job to them.

I have to give Lord and Miller credit, they seem to be handling this as well as can be expected, with people saying that have been "very supportive, very elegant" to the new director Ron Howard. As for the Han Solo movie, Ron Howard took the reigns officially on June 26 with filming now expected to finish in first week of September with "much of what Lord and Miller" filmed being "very usable". It would be interesting to see a Lord and Miller cut vs a Ron Howard cut if only to see how similar used footage can result in likely dramatic differences in tone and execution but like with Rogue One that will never happen.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Ron Howard Signs on for Han Solo Movie

The Hollywood Reporter has revealed that Ron Howard has agreed to take over the director reigns of the Han Solo movie after the previous directors were fired for "creative differences" after nearly completing principle photography. The director, known for Apollo 13 and a directing Oscar for A Beautiful Mind, has suffered multiple expensive box office misses over the last decade so he is probably looking forward to adding this probable mega hit to his resume. I would not be surprised if it immediately becomes his most successful film ever box office wise.

Howard's task seems easy since in theory he only has to do a month of filming and monitor post production work that has already made significant progress. Instead he has to try to effectively re-film the entire movie to meet what Lucasfilm and Disney want for the production while not actually re-filming the entire movie. That means using movie magic, creative editing with existing footage and creative filming to re-create moments for events and sets that have probably long since been taken down or re-purposed during production over the last few months. Considering his decades long directing career, he is probably one of the few directors with the experience to take it in stride.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Han Solo Movie Directors Fired

It seems the "A Star Wars Story" films just can't catch a break director wise. Rogue One basically did a re-write of the movie with re-shoots, post-production changes and a re-edit that effectively turned the movie over to directing by committee. What was going to be a Boba Fett film had to fire its director due to what could only be described as alleged incompetence and indecisiveness. The replacement film, the Han Solo movie, seemed on track to avoid the problems as it completed its pre-production process without any problems and started principle photography. Instead we learn that directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street) have been fired over "creative differences."

Via The Hollywood Reporter from Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy: "Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are talented filmmakers who have assembled an incredible cast and crew, but it’s become clear that we had different creative visions on this film, and we’ve decided to part ways. A new director will be announced soon."

"Unfortunately, our vision and process weren’t aligned with our partners on this project," a statement from Lord and Miller read. "We normally aren’t fans of the phrase 'creative differences' but for once this cliché is true. We are really proud of the amazing and world-class work of our cast and crew."

"Creative differences" probably occurs way more often then the public is aware of but is caught early enough in the pre-production process to not make the news. THR tries to down play it as just part of the movie making process (and it is) but to occur months into principle photography that started in February and when the movie is probably less then a month from being finished indicates that something went seriously wrong. The site says:
Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that the style and vision of Lord and Miller clashed with that of Lawrence Kasdan, the legendary screenwriter behind the classics Empire Strikes Back and ‪Raiders of the Lost Ark, who also wrote, with his son, Jon Kasdan, the script for the Han Solo stand-alone set (for now) to be released in 2018.

Lord and Miller (21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie) have a comedic sensibility and improvisational style while Kasdan favors a strict adherence to the written word — what is on the page is what must be shot.

The creative clash, according to one insider, also came down to differences in understanding the character of Han Solo. “People need to understand that Han Solo is not a comedic personality. He’s sarcastic and selfish,” said that source.
Despite THR's attempt to shrug it off, this is a major problem and considering the director's likely would have (and may still get) a piece of all the Star Wars action, quitting and/or getting fired is no small thing. We are talking potentially tens of millions of dollars once the dust settles either in payouts, lost residuals, re-shoots, and more. The money involved makes this a massive problem. If this wasn't a Hollywood production you would be hearing talks of CEOs, VPs and other high level management "moving on to other opportunities."

As for what is next, no one knows yet. The current rumor is Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, The Da Vinci Code) or Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, Captain America) could take over but most director's at their level tend to loath taking over other's people project. Then again this is Star Wars money and working on one of these movies in a major role basically means retirement if so desire.

While my initial impression of events comes down to "what are we missing?" it does sound like a good call as treating Han Solo or most of the key Star Wars characters as just comedic would be a disastrous tone and everything about the directors' background indicates that is what they know how to do. They probably can do serious but they were hired on the strength of the critical and box office results of The Lego Movie so they probably reasonable assumed that is what Lucasfilm wanted from them - essentially a comedy set in the Star Wars universe. However they seemed to miss two red flags: a) Star Wars isn't comedy, it just has humorous elements and b) Kasdan has never written a comedy in his life. Again this assumes that we are not missing very important details which I think we are.

Since the film is currently in production for for a 2018 release, any day not filming is money being burned so Lucasfilm is going to be highly motivated to get the train back on schedule and its going to cost them dearly to do it. Good thing they have all those Star Wars, Disney, Pixar, and Marvel bucks to make it easier.