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.

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