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Author: Hannah Woodhead
Children’s movies are brilliant. They’re the first experiences of cinema that many kids have, introducing you to a world where anything’s possible. I fell in love with going to the cinema after I saw Chicken Run for the first time when I was six, and even now films aimed at younger audiences, from Moana to Ponyo and My Life as a Courgette continue to delight and inspire me. Captain Underpants, well, not so much.
Whilst the film features a who’s who of Hollywood comedy royalty, from Kevin Hart to Ed Helms, they’re wasted on this bland cash-in on the popular book franchise – you can hear them now in interviews, saying how nice it is to be in a movie their kids can watch. Only Nick Kroll really had a chance to shine as the nefarious Professor Poopypants, and he did ham it up magnificently, »
- Hannah Woodhead
Anna Faris knows a thing or two about voicing animated and/or CG characters, having lent her pipes to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and a handful of Alvin and the Chipmunks movies. Her Jailbreak character will bring a needed edge to The Emoji Movie. »
Sony Pictures Imageworks, celebrating its 25th anniversary, is unique in Hollywood as the only studio-run visual effects and animation division. Formed in 1992 (now headquartered in Vancouver), Imageworks alternates between live-action/CG hybrids and animation with its younger sister, Sony Pictures Animation, which was founded in 2002.
Imageworks has won two Oscars (“Spider-Man 2” VFX and “The ChubbChubbs!” animated short) along with an Academy Sci-Tech award this year for an advanced shading program. But Imageworks first cut its teeth on “Speed,” “James and the Giant Peach,” “Jumanji,” “Starship Troopers,” and “Contact” before tackling “Stuart Little” in 1999, the first-cg-animated character to star in a live-action feature.
Since then, Imageworks spear-headed performance capture-based virtual production with director Robert Zemeckis (“Polar Express,” “Monster House”), and has continued to work on franchises including “Spider-Man” (“Homecoming” opens this week), “The Smurfs,” and “Hotel Transylvania.”
Here’s our ranking of the 10 best VFX moments from Imageworks:
10. Re-Inventing Invisibility »
- Bill Desowitz
Edgar Wright’s action comedy “Baby Driver” (Sony) opened Tuesday night to a strong $2.1 preview gross, a promising start with a shot at spreading word of mouth going into the pre-holiday weekend. All of that is standard operating procedure for an offbeat film, but that’s also reason to hope it could be one of most significant and gratifying results of the 2017 movie year. Here’s why.
It Could Be the Rare Original Film to Succeed
In a year full of franchises, sequels, and variations thereof, domestic audience reactions this summer range from lowered interest (“Transformers – The Last Knight”) to disdain (“The Mummy,” “Baywatch”). However, one of the year’s stellar hits has been Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” with its $175 million domestic gross on a production cost of just $5 million.
Similarly, “Baby Driver” has three strikes »
- Tom Brueggemann
It’s a special edition of The Week in Star Wars following the shock news from the Han Solo spin-off movie, along with some bits from The Last Jedi, Episode IX and more…
Before we kick things off, The Week in Star Wars celebrated it’s second birthday this week.
Thanks to everyone who has read any edition over the last two years
So, let’s talk about Han Solo. Although the event took place as early as Monday, it was revealed on Tuesday that Phil Lord and Chris Miller had been fired from the Han Solo spin-off movie. The films had been in production since February, and all reports suggest that there are still four or so weeks left of shooting, with five weeks of planned re-shoots. “Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are talented filmmakers who have assembled an incredible cast and crew, but it’s become clear that »
- Luke Owen
Anne Thompson: Lucasfilm czar Kathleen Kennedy is siding with the writer — long-time “Star Wars” consigliere Lawrence Kasdan —over a carefully-selected director team with a strong voice. Phil Lord and Chris Miller, if you think about it, have become accustomed to running their own show. They have a little production studio humming along at Bricksburg in Hollywood, born from the blockbuster “The Lego Movie,” and they’re used to being in charge. They are stars. And they know it.
Whatever went wrong here, it’s clear who Lord and Miller are, what they can do. For one thing they are comedy directors — “21 Jump Street,” “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” “The Lego Movie” — not to mention the upcoming “Lego Ninjago Movie,” “America: The Motion Picture,” “Mib 23,” the Untitled Spider-Man Project, and a gaggle of TV series. They’re running their own factory parallel to the Lucasfilm universe and ran headlong into the juggernaut that is “Star Wars.” Kennedy’s purpose is to stay on course — as Kevin Feige does with Marvel — and keep the “Star Wars” universe humming and intact as it spins into many orbits. She can take responsibility for miscasting in this case, because Lord and Miller are who they are and, once hired, should be able to do what they do.
Read More: ‘Star Wars’: The Han Solo Movie We Will Never Get to See
When less established indie hire Gareth Edwards went off track on “Rogue One,” he had to step aside as “Bourne” franchise writer-director Tony Gilroy helped to reshoot and reorganize the final product. The trick with Jj Abrams or Rian Johnson or Colin Trevorrow is selecting directors who are team players capable of keeping the larger goals in mind, and not drawing outside the lines. That, apparently, Lord and Miller did not do—running with a different interpretation of Han Solo than Kasdan. In this case, a reinvention of the Han Solo character for a new generation was not in the cards. Of course Ron Howard is a superb competent director (“Apollo 13,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “Rush”) who can execute with the best of them. He knows what to do and will do it well. But like Edgar Wright’s “Ant Man,” I suspect the movie we will never see was more exciting and unexpected than the one that will hit global screens in 2018.
Kate Erbland: There’s no question that after the massive upheaval of Lord and Miller leaving the project with just a few weeks left to go in principal photography, Lucasfilm is desperate for anything resembling stability. Howard is a good guy for that, a seasoned professional with plenty of blockbuster experience and two Oscars to boot, and he’ll likely be able to soothe frazzled nerves and get the mechanics of the filmmaking process running smoothly in no time. That’s the draw here: He’s a safe choice, and what was so exciting about the initial hiring of Lord and Miller was that they weren’t.
Howard will surely make a perfectly serviceable feature, delivered on time and with a minimum of drama, but the fallout from this will always eclipse that final product. Not just in terms of the Han Solo movie we’ll never see — though that stings, too — but because it shows that Lucasfilm and “Star Wars” aren’t ready to take a real gamble on unique talents just yet, even when they seem so happy to keep telling us that they are.
Zack Sharf: It’s also worth pointing out that Howard’s a Hollywood veteran, so fans should rest assured this will remain a polished, maybe even elegant production. But he’s also an old-fashioned, traditional storyteller, which means anyone hoping for some narrative edge to this spinoff will most likely wind up disappointed.
But given all the news that has broken since Lord and Miller’s firing earlier this week, the real question isn’t whether or not Ron Howard is a good replacement, it’s whether or not his hiring even matters. It’s become apparent that Kennedy and Kasdan are the real directors at play here, even though their titles may not official indicate such a job. It’s why Lord and Miller were fired. It’s why Tony Gilroy was brought on to oversee Gareth Edwards’ massive “Star Wars: Rogue One” reshoots. The latter was no fluke, and the former is an alarming new wake up call to the real people calling the shots on these movies.
Directors often come and go from projects — just look what’s happening with “The Flash” over at Warner Bros. — but very rarely are they fired months into production. It makes you wonder how much these movies can have any real directorial signature. Whether it was Ron Howard or Guillermo del Toro, for instance, we might wind up with the same end product. Kennedy and Kasdan may have the perfect template for this movie, but that doesn’t mean it requires a talented filmmaker.
Chris O’Falt: I think the big thing with Howard is he can have a light touch when necessary. He’s the rare studio director who can do intense drama, action, but is more than capable of doing comedy or building in comedic elements. He’s the best choice for preserving — and salvaging — some element of Lord and Miller’s comedic elements and while delivering a component action-adventure film. Howard is congenial and beloved, in addition to being a component producer and respected presence on set.
As Kate said, when this movie comes out, Lord and Miller will be part of the story. Who would you rather have out front with your “it all worked out” version of things? Who do you want sitting with Colbert or on the Today Show rehashing this awkward situation? Howard knows how to diffuse a bomb.
Eric Kohn: There’s a bigger question behind all this: What do we want from our “Star Wars” movies? Personally, I was satiated a long time ago (in a movie theater far, far away, on the other side of the country, watching the original trilogy in its late-nineties rerelease). This franchise has been with us for so long that we take its existence for granted. Say what you want about George Lucas’ prequels, but this former aspiring experimental filmmaker was constantly thinking outside the box. The latest “Star Wars” movies, while proficient as entertainment, have also shown a kind of conservatism with respect to mainstream entertainment. Give the audience what they want — a big, slick space opera that’s easy to consume and loaded with relatable characters. The only thing truly daring about “Rogue One” was its grim finale – and I bet the Lucasfilm execs won’t let the franchise go that direction ever again.
I love the idea of hiring visionary filmmakers to play around with studio dollars, but frankly am more intrigued by the wacky possibilities of Luc Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” than Han Solo’s backstory. (For what it’s worth: The “Star Wars” comics, which are canon, already do a fine job of filling in some of those details.) The more I consider the possibilities of a Han Solo prequel, the less exciting they become; this character has become such a fully-formed pop culture icon that the very idea of more cinematic adventures strikes me as redundant.
Here’s an idea: Take Han Solo’s name out of the script and let Ron Howard make a fast, fun space western about characters who have barely received much attention in the past. Why not give Lando Calrissian top billing? Donald Glover’s overdue for action stardom. Or, for that matter, maybe Howard could channel his penchant for music films into a concert film about Mos Eisely cantina fixtures Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes. I’d be first in line.
Wishful thinking, I know. We’re getting a Ron Howard movie about young Han Solo. As others have said, it’s a safer bet, and not the least bit surprising. Maybe it’ll be fine. But I have a strong feeling that will also be familiar.
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- Eric Kohn, Zack Sharf, Kate Erbland, Chris O'Falt and Anne Thompson
Two years after first coming on board the film, the pair have unexpectedly departed the project, leaving the fate of the still-filming feature up in the air, even as Lucasfilm vows to charge forward with a new director in order to meet a planned 2018 release date. But the film that Lord and Miller were in the midst of making is now, at least in part, long gone.
With weeks left on the original shoot and an already-scheduled series of reshoots planned for later this summer, whichever director steps in will be able to lens plenty in his or her own vision (or, perhaps more appropriately, in Lucasfilm’s vision), to say nothing of the possibility that still more material will be shot and an editing process that could drastically change whatever it is that Lord and Miller were planning. Now there’s an entire “Star Wars” film we’ll never get to see.
When Lord and Miller were first announced for the project in July of 2015 (shared first, as these things so often are, on the official Star Wars website), the statement pointed directly to “their unique creative chemistry.” But their exclusive association with comedies went unacknowledged; their previous efforts were referenced by the studio as “critically acclaimed” films. Perhaps the disconnect started there, with Lucasfilm leaning more on accolades than style when showing off its new directors.
To be fair, while Lord and Miller traffic firmly in comedies, from “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” to “21 Jump Street,” their films are well-liked by both audiences and critics. That’s not often the case with broad comedies and says a lot about their unique appeal. Lord and Miller don’t have indie roots the way some filmmakers do, but they maintain an aura of independence associated with the quality of their work. Each of their four directorial outings are “Certified Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, with high enough critical ratings to put them in the top tier of released films. They’ve made money, too, over $700 million, and each of those four features opened in the top spot on their designated weekend.
When they started working on the Han Solo film, Lord and Miller struck a tone consistent with expectations from these distinctive storytellers. “We promise to take risks, to give the audience a fresh experience, and we pledge ourselves to be faithful stewards of these characters who mean so much to us,” they said in a statement at the time. “This is a dream come true for us. And not the kind of dream where you’re late for work and all your clothes are made of pudding, but the kind of dream where you get to make a film with some of the greatest characters ever, in a film franchise you’ve loved since before you can remember having dreams at all.”
Back then, both Lucasfilm head and producer Kathleen Kennedy and producer and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan — who would later reportedly “clash” with the filmmakers, until they were fired — seemed to embrace that. In his own statement, Kasdan called the duo “two of the smartest, funniest and most original filmmakers around, and the ideal choice to tell the story of Han Solo, one of the coolest characters in the galaxy.”
Kennedy played up their wit. “It’s not just any filmmaker who can tell the story of such a beloved icon like Han Solo, and I’m excited to say we’ve found the perfect team to handle the task,” she said. “Larry and Jon [Kasdan, co-screenwriter] know all there is to know about the character, and Chris and Phil will bring their wit, style, energy and heart to tell Han’s story.”
If you want sharply-crafted humor in your film, you hire Lord and Miller. That’s what they will give you. Their sweet spot is blending the silly with the smart, and going for low-hanging fruit with gusto and style (their already-iconic “Channing Tatum takes way too many drugs” scene in “21 Jump Street” is hilarious and weird and fun, easy material elevated by their intelligence). They delight in twisting genres into new shapes, taking something that sounds tired (like a “Jump Street” movie revival or an adult-leaning adaptation of a classic kids book) and making something original and fun out of it.
In retrospect, those attributes were never going to fly in the “Star Wars” environment, one beholden to fitting even so-called standalone stories into a larger framework.
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- Kate Erbland
A few days ago, my colleague Owen Gleiberman wrote a scathing essay questioning whether Colin Trevorrow was the right choice to direct “Star Wars: Episode IX,” suggesting that the “Jurassic World” helmer’s in-between indie, “The Book of Henry,” is such an abomination we have reason to think he could ruin the franchise that has already weathered the likes of Gungans and Ewoks.
It was a tough essay, so much so that I genuinely feared Trevorrow’s job could be in danger. And then a funny thing happened. “Star Wars” producer Kathleen Kennedy fired the directors on a completely different “Star Wars” movie, axing Phil Lord and Christopher Miller from the Han Solo project. What!?!?
The universe needs directors like Lord and Miller more than ever these days — and not just the “Star Wars” universe, mind you, but the multiverse of cinematic storytelling in general. Lord and Miller represent that rarest of breeds: directors with a fresh and unique vision, backed by the nerve to stand up for what they believe in.
Just look at their track record: After starting their careers as TV writers (they created the MTV cartoon series “Clone High” and wrote for “How I Met Your Mother”), the duo made their feature directorial debut with “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” a wildly imaginative reinvention of a 32-page children’s book that heralded them as bold, outside-the-box comedy storytellers.
Then they made the jump to live-action, bringing their trademark brand of hip, pop-savvy self-awareness to the feature-length “21 Jump Street” remake. Few animation directors have survived the leap from animation to live-action (just consider the likes of “John Carter” and “Monster Trucks”), but Lord and Miller took to the new medium like naturals (technically, they had experience from their TV writing days — and I remember hearing stories that they’d actually taken a break from “Cloudy” to write an episode of “How I Met Your Mother” just so they wouldn’t lose their Writers Guild insurance benefits, but that’s another story about animators don’t enjoy the same protection in this industry).
“21 Jump Street” took the concept of a tired old ’80s TV show — two baby-faced cops go undercover as high-school students — and rebooted it with a playful twist, turning the ludicrous setup into one giant joke. Then came “The Lego Movie,” in which they cracked one of the weirdest assignments in 21st-century filmmaking — bring the popular line of kids toys to life — in a wholly original way, embracing the fact that Legos had spawned an almost cult-like sub-genre of fan films (to capitalize on the trend, the Lego company had even released a “MovieMaker Set” in 2000, complete with stop-motion camera and Steven Spielberg-styled minifigure) to make the ultimate wisecracking meta-movie.
After that string of successes, Lord and Miller had become two of the hottest names in town, able to pick their projects. But like so many directors of their generation — children of the ’70s whose love of cinema had been inspired by George Lucas’ game-changing space opera, what they wanted was to make a “Star Wars” movie. For a moment, that seemed possible, since the producers were hiring indie directors like Rian Johnson (“Brick”) and Gareth Edwards (“Monsters”) to helm these tentpoles.
On paper, Lord and Miller’s irreverent sensibility seemed like a perfect match for Han Solo, the franchise’s most sardonic character. One has to assume that it was precisely that take Kathy Kennedy and the “Star Wars” producers wanted when they hired the duo. But this is where modern critics, columnists and the fan community at large fail to understand a fundamental change that is happening at the blockbuster level in Hollywood: These directors are not being chosen to put their personal stamp on these movies. They are being hired to do the opposite, to suppress their identity and act grateful while the producers make all the key creative decisions.
Want to know why Trevorrow was picked to direct “Jurassic World” when his only previous credit was a nifty little sci-fi indie called “Safety Not Guaranteed”? It’s because he plays well with others, willing to follow exec producer Steven Spielberg’s lead when necessary. Going in to the assignment, Trevorrow had no experience directing complicated action sequences or overseeing massive-budget special effects. He didn’t need it, because those aspects of the movie were delegated to seasoned heads of department, while Trevorrow focused on what he does best: handling the interpersonal chemistry between the lead characters. (Personally, I hold Trevorrow responsible for the decision to film Bryce Dallas Howard running in high heels, but not the turducken-like gag where a giant CG monosaur rises up to swallow the pterodactyl that’s eating Bryce’s assistant. Surely someone else oversaw that nearly-all-digital sequence.)
Independent schlock producer Roger Corman memorably observed that in the post-“Jaws,” post-“Star Wars” era, the A movies have become the B movies, and the B movies have become the A movies — which is another way of saying that today, instead of taking risks on smart original movies for grown-up sensibilities (say, tony literary adaptations and films based on acclaimed Broadway plays), the studios are investing most of their resources into comic-book movies and the equivalent of cliffhanger serials (from Tarzan to Indiana Jones).
To Corman’s equation I would add the following corollary: On today’s tentpoles, the director’s job is to take orders, while producers and other pros are called in to oversee the complicated practical and CG sequences that ultimately define these movies. It’s an extension of the old second-unit model, wherein experienced stunt and action-scene professionals handled the logistics of car chases and exotic location work — except that now, such spectacular sequences are the most important part of effects-driven movies. Meanwhile, the one ingredient the producers can’t fake or figure out on their own is the human drama, which is the reason that directors of Sundance films keep getting handed huge Hollywood movies: to deliver the chemistry that will make audiences care about all those big set pieces.
How times have changed: In the 1980s, the only one who would make a movie like “Fantastic Four” was Corman, which he did for peanuts, whereas two years ago, Fox dumped more than $125 million into the same property. And the director they picked? Josh Trank, whose only previous feature had been the low-budget “Chronicle.” Let’s not forget that Trank ankled his own “Star Wars” spinoff, which I suspect had everything to do with realizing what happens when forced to relinquish control of a project in which he’s listed as the in-title-only director.
Back in the ’60s, a group of French critics writing for Cahiers du Cinéma coined what has come to be known as “the auteur theory,” a relatively quaint idea that the director (as opposed the screenwriter, star or some other creative contributor) is the “author” of a film. In the half-century since, critics everywhere have fallen for this fantastical notion that directors have creative autonomy over the movies they make — when in fact, as often as not, that simply isn’t the case.
The auteur theory makes for a convenient myth, of course, and one that lazy critics have long perpetuated, because it’s much to difficult to give credit where it’s due when confronted with the already-cooked soufflé of a finished movie. Critics aren’t allowed into the kitchen, after all, and though countless chefs (or heads of department, to clarify the metaphor) contribute to any given film production, it’s virtually impossible to identify who was really responsible for the choices that make the film what it is.
How much of “Citizen Kane’s” creative genius can be attributed to cinematographer Gregg Toland? Would “Jaws” or “Star Wars” have been even half as effective without composer John Williams? Did editor Ralph Rosenblum save “Annie Hall”? And most relevant to the discussion at hand: Is it correct to think of “Rebecca” as an Alfred Hitchcock movie (he directed it, after all), or does the result more thoroughly reflect the hand of producer David O. Selznick?
This is all complicated by the fact that an entire class of filmmakers — the so-called “film-school generation” — seized upon the auteur theory, turning it into something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the likes of Coppola, Scorsese, Spielberg, Lucas and so on left their signature on the movies they made. Meanwhile, the Cahiers critics (several of whom went on to become directors, among them Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut) were protected by a uniquely French copyright law dating back to the 18th century, known as the “droit d’auteur,” which entitled them to final cut (a privilege precious few Hollywood directors have).
But these remain the exception, not the rule. In the case of the “Jurassic Park” and “Star Wars” franchises, the director is decidedly not the auteur. To the extent that a single vision forms the creative identity of these films, it’s almost always the producer we should hold responsible. To understand that, we need only look back to the original “Star Wars” sequel, “The Empire Strikes Back,” a movie “directed” by Irvin Kershner, but every bit George Lucas’ brainchild (he reportedly hand-picked Kershner for his strength with character development). The same goes for Richard Marquand on “Return of the Jedi.”
This shouldn’t be a scandalous revelation. It just doesn’t fit with the self-aggrandizing narrative that many directors have chosen for themselves. Yes, the 1989 “Batman” is without question “a Tim Burton movie”: Burton has such an incredibly distinctive aesthetic, and the personality to push it through a system that’s virtually designed to thwart such originality. But when it comes to the incredibly successful “X-Men” franchise, there’s no question that producer (and “Superman” director) Richard Donner deserves as much credit as those first two films’ director, Bryan Singer. Simply put, that franchise owes its personality to both of their involvement.
But when it comes to “Jurassic World,” that movie probably wouldn’t look much different in the hands of someone other than Trevorrow. And the same can almost certainly be said for the “Star Wars” movie he’s been hired to direct, because in both cases, it’s the producers who are steering the ship. When the stakes are this high, it would be downright reckless to give complete autonomy to relatively unproven directors.
That’s increasingly the case in Hollywood these days. Director Dave Green (who’d made a tiny Amblin-style movie called “Earth to Echo”) went through it on a franchise project produced by Michael Bay. He was tapped to helm “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” only to discover that he had no autonomy. Granted, Green was still wet behind the ears and had no experience with a nine-digit budget or big union crew. But that wasn’t the job, because Bay never expected him to handle everything. Instead, the producer pulled in more experienced professionals to oversee much of the action and visual effects, while Green followed orders and worked his magic with the actors.
You can bet Tom Cruise’s paycheck that the same thing happened on “The Mummy,” in which Alex Kurtzman is listed as director, but the producer-star was reportedly calling most of the shots. How appropriate that a Universal monster movie reboot should be the victim of what amounts to a kind of creative Frankenstein effect.
Likewise, Marvel has had more success (both financially and artistically) forcing directors to conform to an inflexible set of aesthetic guidelines than it did when art-house “auteur” Ang Lee experimented with his own ideas on 2003’s “Hulk.” And though Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón is celebrated for the personal touch he brought to the Harry Potter franchise, it was relatively malleable British TV director David Yates whom writer-producer J.K. Rowling approved to direct four more films in the series.
So where does that leave us with “Star Wars”? On one hand, it’s perfectly understandable that the producers would want Trevorrow to direct Episode IX, since he’s already demonstrated his capacity to play along with the producers. Meanwhile, it’s disheartening — but not altogether surprising — that a directorial duo as gifted as Lord and Miller have been fired from the Han Solo film, since they’ve been known to fight for the creative integrity of their vision.
But it’s a loss to the “Star Wars” world, since Lord and Miller’s previous credits demonstrate the kind of unique take they might have brought to the franchise. Warner Bros. trusted the duo enough on “The Lego Movie” to let them poke fun at Batman — arguably the studio’s most precious IP, previously rendered oh-so-serious in the Christopher Nolan trilogy. Lord and Miller’s minifigure Dark Knight was a brooding egomaniac and the funniest thing about that film, so much so that Warners ran with it, producing a spinoff that stretched the joke to feature length.
Sony Pictures Animation (where Lord and Miller made “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”) was similarly enthusiastic about their input on Spider-Man, greenlighting the pair’s high-attitude idea for an animated movie centered around Miles Morales, the Black Hispanic superhero who took over web-slinging duties after Peter Parker’s death. Though they’re not directing, the script is said to bear their fingerprints — which it seems is exactly what Kennedy and company don’t want on the Han Solo project.
With any luck, Lord and Miller will see the “Star Wars” setback as the opportunity that it is: Rather than being forced to color within the lines of a controlling producer’s vision, they can potentially explore the more individual (dare I say, “auteurist”?) instinct they so clearly possess on a less-protected property. Heck, maybe Sony’s Spider-Man project will be the one to benefit. Or perhaps they’ll be in the enviable position of pitching an original movie. Not all directors have such a strong or clear sense of vision that they can be trusted to exert it over a massive studio tentpole, but Lord and Miller are among the few actively reshaping the comedy landscape. Now is their moment, although as Han Solo would say, “Great, kid. Don’t get cocky.”
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- Peter Debruge
Last July, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller took the stage at London’s Star Wars Celebration to provide the first official update on their still-untitled Han Solo standalone feature. It was a giddy event, with the filmmaking pair talking animatedly about their affection for the character — one that Miller billed as “one of the most iconic characters of all time” — and introducing the newly cast Alden Ehrenreich to a packed house filled with cheering fans.
Now, nearly one year later, the pair have unexpectedly departed the project, leaving the fate of the feature — one that has been in production for months, and reportedly has “several weeks” left, along with a planned series of reshoots for the summer — without a director and Lord and Miller without their latest passion project.
Announced via an official Lucasfilm statement on Tuesday afternoon, the departure shook up Hollywood and left plenty of lingering questions. We may have a few answers, thanks to a slew of reports hitting the wire as the industry scrambles to make sense of one of the few times in recent memory when Hollywood news was actually shocking.
Blame Creative Differences (No, Really)
If nothing else, it does seem that the old Hollywood chestnut of “creative differences” is to blame in this case. In yesterday’s official statement on the duo’s exit from the project, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy said, “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.”
The filmmakers added in their own portion of the statement, “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.”
But those differences might have stemmed from a number of places, including clashes with high-powered producers and collaborators who ultimately decided the fate of Lord and Miller’s project.
Over at Variety, an exclusive report holds that the pair left the project “after months of conflict with producer Kathleen Kennedy, others from her LucasFilm team, and co-writer and executive producer Lawrence Kasdan.”
The report adds that “while Kennedy wants to make a splash by hiring young indie directors such as Gareth Edwards (‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’) and Rian Johnson (‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’), she’s ultimately unwilling to empower them to make their own creative decisions.”
Lord and Miller, however, have long worked within the studio system on such wide-ranging films as “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and “21 Jump Street” — both successes that smack of their special brand of humor — and likely did not expect to be so closely monitored while executing their vision. The outlet’s examination of the surprising departure holds that the directors “were stunned to find that they were not being granted freedom to run the production in the manner that they were accustomed to. They balked at Kennedy’s tight control on the set.”
The producer reportedly wasn’t a fan of their “shooting style and process of interacting with actors and crew,” which tends to be free-wheeling, collaborative, and open to improvisation. In what will likely be the defining color quote from the entire incident, a source told Variety,” It was a culture clash from day one. She didn’t even like the way they folded their socks.”
The Hollywood Reporter bolsters that report with their own, adding that “the friction was felt almost immediately when the movie began shooting in February, sources say, but the directors always thought it could be worked through…the duo also didn’t feel they had the support of producer Allison Shearmur, who was acting as Lucasfilm’s representative on the London set.”
Both Variety and THR report that Miller and Lord’s culture clash also extended to “Star Wars” mainstay and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, with Variety adding that, “Like Kennedy, he questioned many of the pair’s directing choices.”
THR’s own report holds 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.”
And that free-wheeling style? It could be to blame, with THR weighing in that “Lord and Miller 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.”
Lord and Miller’s Exit Was Sudden
THR reports that the pair “were said to have been blindsided by the firing, which they learned about Monday, according to one source, although another disputed that account.” The duo had both moved to London months ago for pre-production and production.
As of now, the film has “gone on a short hiatus to review what had been shot and to clear the air.”
The Pair May Already Be Lining Up Their Next Feature
Lord and Miller previously wrote a treatment for DC’s “The Flash” back in 2015, and a new report holds that they may be on deck to direct the film, which has already cycled through directors Seth Grahame-Smith and Rick Famuyiwa on its way to the big screen.
The Wrap reports that the pair met with DC during a planned production hiatus from the film. The outlet holds that “the duo met about the possibility of directing ‘The Flash’ after Rick Famuyiwa left the project over creative differences last year, according to multiple individuals familiar with the project, adding that “it was unclear whether they were already considering an exit from the ‘Han Solo’ project” at the time of the meeting.
The Flash will next appear in “Justice League,” played by Ezra Miller, who first appeared in last year’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” While the standalone feature has struggled to find a director, there have long been rumors that Robert Zemeckis would step in — but could Lord and Miller best him for the gig?
The Project May Be Close to Locking a New Director
Inevitably, Lord and Miller’s exits opens the door for another director’s splashy entrance. At Deadline, a new report holds that Ron Howard is the current front-runner to take over the film. Other names like Kasdan and Joe Johnston have been floated already, but Deadline seems set on Howard stepping into the role.
The outlet reports, “In Howard, Disney’s getting a pro who can step right in and keep the picture on track for a May 2018 release. He has been busy as ever and recently agreed to direct a feature docu on Luciano Pavarotti while developing numerous features that include an adaptation of the publishing phenomenon of ‘Hillbilly Elegy’…he might well step right in here and keep the Solo film on track.”
THR holds that “Lucasfilm and owner Disney have already targeted their replacement, although the companies are keeping mum.”
In its official statement, Lucasfilm promised that a new director will be announced soon, and that this decision would not immediately affect the film’s release date, which is still tentatively set for May 25, 2018.
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Related stories'Star Wars': The Han Solo Movie We Will Never Get to SeePhil Lord and Chris Miller Leave as Directors of 'Star Wars' Spinoff MovieA Tweetstorm Reveals the Nuances in the 'Star Wars' Prequels You Never Noticed »
- Kate Erbland
Ryan Lambie Jun 22, 2017
Making a Hollywood film is a huge opportunity. But for some filmmakers, it can also represent years of compromise and disappointment...
The course of Hollywood filmmaking never did run smooth, but the news recently emerging from the production of next year's A Star Wars Story spin-off is dramatic stuff even by blockbuster movie standards.
Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who were first hired to direct the film about a young Han Solo in the summer of 2015, have abruptly departed the project, with the movie-making duo and Lucasfilm both citing “creative differences” in their respective statements.
Now, directors, writers and other crew may come and go on movies of all sizes, but seldom this far into production. The core cast of Alden Ehrenreich (as Solo), Donald Glover (as a young Lando) had already been put in place, while filming began in late January of this year under the production title Star Wars: Red Cup. This means that Lord and Miller - whose previous films include Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, 21 Jump St and The Lego Movie - had been shooting for approximately five months before their involvement abruptly ended.
A number of reports have emerged about what went on behind the scenes; The Hollywood Reporter, for example, suggests that longtime Star Wars writer Lawrence Kasdan (who wrote the Solo script with his son, Jon) disapproved of Lord and Miller’s loose, improv-heavy style of filmmaking, and wanted them to stick to the letter of his text. Variety, on the other hand, says it was producer and Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy who butted heads with the directors, with one of the outlet’s sources quoted as saying that the “culture clash” between the two parties was such that Kennedy “Didn’t even like the way they folded their socks.”
Whatever the truth is, the Solo movie is now in a highly unusual position of being in the midst of full-scale production without a director to guide it. Now, you might think that, in such an scenario, an experienced producer like Kathleen Kennedy or even Kasdan, who’s called the shots on movies in the past, could simply fill the empty seats left by Lord and Miller.
There is, however, a problem: the Directors Guild of America’s rules plainly state that someone already involved with a movie production can’t replace an outgoing director. “Except in an emergency,” the DGA’s website states, “no director already assigned to the production may replace you”.
From a director’s standpoint, it’s easy to see why this rule’s in place: it protects them from those nightmare scenarios where a power-hungry director wants to push the director out and take over the picture. (According to James Cameron, this is pretty much what happened to him on his ill-fated debut, Piranha II: The Spawning.)
As the DGA says in that quote above, a producer like Kathleen Kennedy can take over the directing duties on a Hollywood movie in the event of an emergency, but even here, there’s a catch: if the producer created that emergency in the first place - in other words, if Lord and Miller were fired, as Variety claims they were - then Kennedy can’t take over. In any event, an emergency director can only assume the role for a maximum of five days, and by that point, the producers are back to where they started: the person who permanently takes over as director has to hired from outside the production.
This is why, within hours of the Lord and Miller news breaking, further stories have emerged that a replacement is already being sought; Ron Howard and Joe Johnston are reportedly being considered, as is Lawrence Kasdan - though as we’ve already seen, hiring Kasdan could land Disney-Lucasfilm in some legally murky waters.
In the meantime, production on the Solo movie has been shut down until a new director’s found - a process that could take weeks, according to THR sources. While the new crop of Star Wars movies have had their production difficulties before, this is undoubtedly the most serious so far - and getting the production back on course will almost certainly prove costly.
There’s the question, too, of just what other directors will make of the whole affair, given the stories that have emerged from behind the scenes of last year’s Star Wars spin-off, Rogue One. Director Gareth Edwards’ vision of a harsh war film was retooled late in the film’s making, with Tony Gilroy brought in to conduct reshoots and change the film’s tone to something more approaching a typical Star Wars movie.
These production stories provide a useful illustration of where major films from the likes of Marvel, Warner and Lucasfilm are today; the producers behind them may want directors who have their own style and ideas, but only if those things fit within the closely-guarded framework dictated by either a space opera or a superhero movie. Indeed, with Kennedy stating that the directors and studio had “different creative visions” for Han Solo, it leaves us wondering why Lord and Miller were hired in the first place. One look at their body of work, whether it’s animated or live-action, will give you an indication of their very successful style: shoot-from-the-hip, fast and loose.
From an outside standpoint, it appears as though directors are being hired for their enthusiasm and the personality of their filmmaking, albeit with the hope that their edges can be sanded down to fit what the producers think will please its ticket-buying audiences. In many instances, a happy medium is found, of a sort: Suicide Squad, which was heavily re-edited before release, was critically panned, but the box office receipts were huge. Rogue One’s production was difficult, but the resulting film was well-received and a similarly big success.
When those uneasy partnerships break down, though, the results are plain to see: Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four, which went so sour that the director effectively disowned the movie via social media. Ant-Man, which lost co-writer and director Edgar Wright after years of development. And, of course, the whole Lord and Miller situation.
Behind-the-scenes dramas are as old as Hollywood itself, but the ever-increasing cost of mainstream filmmaking and the bizarre paradox created by the movie universe paradigm - where audience expectations have to be catered to and upended at the same time - appear to be making the life of a director increasingly difficult.
Taking on the biggest movies in modern pop culture - Star Wars, Marvel, DC - gives filmmakers the chance to tell huge stories on an epic canvas. They have the opportunity to reach global audiences of millions, and potentially, make a lot of money in the process. But as the Han Solo story proves, there’s also the possibility that a director can sink years of their lives into one of these projects, only for it all to fall apart. What is on one hand a huge opportunity could also be regarded as a poisoned chalice. »
The Star Wars universe just got a little less funny.
The directing team behind animated and live-action films like “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” and two “21 Jump Street” films will exit the production, which began in February in London.
“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,” said Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, in a statement released via the official “Star Wars” website.
“Unfortunately, our vision and process weren’t aligned with our partners on this project. 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,” Lord and Miller said in the same release.
Alden Ehrenreich is still on board to star as the younger version of the classic intergalactic swashbuckler, as the film follows his early days as he meets various characters from the original “Star Wars” trilogy, including Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke and Michael K. Williams have also been announced as part of the film’s ensemble.
Lucasfilm announced that this decision would not immediately affect the film’s release date, which is still tentatively set for May 25, 2018.
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- Steve Greene
If you thought Daniel Day-Lewis' retirement was the "Holy Shit!" news of the day, think again! In an utterly surprising turn, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have exited the Han Solo spinoff film. Lucasfilm released an official statement announcing the departure of The Lego Movie, 21 and 22 Jump Street, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs filmmakers citing "creative differences" and stating that a new director will be announced soon. While director shakeups are fairly standard on blockbuster pictures, the news comes as a particular shock considering Han Solo has been filming in London since January, and … »
- Haleigh Foutch
According to reports, the co-directors of The Lego Movie among others preferred an improvisational approach and a comedic sensibility on the Star Wars spin-off that was out of step with screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan and Jon Kasdan, and Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy.
It is understood Lucasfilm and Disney remain committed to releasing the stand-alone film over the Memorial Day holiday in May 2018.
“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 »
- firstname.lastname@example.org (Jeremy Kay)
The project is based on the Lois Lowry children’s book of the same name. Rudolph will be the voice of Nanny, who looks after the Willoughby children. Crews is voicing candy mogul Commander Melanoff, and Short and Krakowski will voice Father and Mother Willoughby, parents so in love with each other that they forget they even have children. Cullen voices the twin boys Barnaby A and B.
Ricky Gervais was previously announced as the narrator of the film, which follows the four Willoughby children. When abandoned by their selfish parents, they embark on an adventure through the modern world, colliding with a cat, an orphan, a nanny, and a candy mogul, to reunite with the “family they were born into.”
- Dave McNary
Bron Animation title based on 2010 Lois Lowry novel of same name.
Kris Pearn writes and directs and Cory Evans co-directs the story of the four Willoughby children, abandoned by their selfish parents, who embark on an adventure through the modern world. They encounter a cat, an orphan, a nanny and a confection mogul on their quest to reunite with the family they were born into.
Rudolph will voice Nanny, who looks after the Willoughby children. Crews is voicing the confection mogul Commander Melanoff, and Short and Krakowski give voice to Father and Mother Willoughby, parents so in love with each other they forget they even have children. Cullen voices the twin boys Barnaby A and B.
Gervais was previously announced as the narrator of the film, which is currently in pre-production at Bron’s studio in Burnaby »
The world of mainstream animated comedy, in case you hadn’t noticed, has been regressing to infantile states of being. Last year we had “Storks,” a light kiddie fantasy about how newborns get delivered; earlier this year, there was “The Boss Baby,” in which a glowering infant tyrant traded in his diapers for a corporate power suit and attitude to match. Now, the reversion to what Sigmund Freud — or maybe it was Adam Sandler — diagnosed as the 5-year-old funny bone reaches its apotheosis in “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie,” a high-spirited, low-comedy adaptation of the first of Dav Pilkey’s hugely popular series of children’s novels. (It was published in 1997, and in the years since there have been 11 sequels and three spinoffs, which have sold a combined 50 million copies in the U.S. alone.) Parents: Are you ready to hold your nose and giggle?
The title character of »
- Owen Gleiberman
“Lego Movie” masterminds Phil Lord and Chris Miller think it’s nuts to offer advice via the esteemed BAFTA’s Screenwriters’ Lecture master class. “If anyone calls themselves a ‘master screenwriter,'” Lord told the London audience last October, “they are about to write a terrible screenplay.”
Nevertheless, Lord and Miller persisted; after writing and producing together for 20 years, including the upcoming Han Solo origin story, they had plenty to say. BAFTA has just made their nearly 90-minute video available to the public, glitchy graphics and all, and it makes for some very funny viewing (not to be missed: their short that “was not educational enough” for Disney, which attempted to teach children about the Brontë sisters using Victorian era-inspired action figures). It’s also educational — some might even say, masterful.
Here’s 10 of the best bits of advice from Lord and Miller.
Read More: Star Wars Celebration: Han Solo »
- Allison Picurro
Schwartz will report directly to Open Road Films CEO Tom Ortenberg, who also made the announcement Tuesday.
Helfgot came on board slightly over a year ago, replacing Jason Cassidy in the post. That shuffle came a month after Open Road’s “Spotlight” had won best picture at the Academy Awards.
Helfgot is returning to 20th Century Fox, where he will be exec VP of theatrical marketing and report to Pam Levine, president of global marketing. He previously worked at Fox in a number of roles from 2004 to 2011.
Open Road also announced that Liz Biber has been promoted to president of publicity and will continue to report to Ortenberg. Biber has been head of publicity since the company’s inception in 2011.
Schwartz was previously executive VP of marketing at Screen Gems »
- Dave McNary
Many moons ago we got one of our our first looks at Star Wars: The Force Awakens when J.J. Abrams made a video from the set for the charitable organization Omaze. It was that video that offered up a taste of the old school aliens and set design we'd see in the movie (and later learn was the marketplace on Jakku). And now life is repeating itself, as one of our first looks at the still untitled Han Solo solo movie comes for a set video for Omaze. Once again, the highlight of the video is a mysterious alien. This one is sporting a pretty sweat jacket, six blinking eyes, and a real despondent attitude. Basically, he's perfect for a live-action Star Wars movie from the directors of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. But who is this guy? Will he be in the movie for any...
Read More »
- Peter Hall
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced annual rule and eligibility changes this morning, but while most of the attention was on a shift in the documentary race that would render multi-part series like last year’s winner “O.J.: Made in America” (or, say, Netflix’s “Five Came Back”) ineligible, what struck me was a tweak elsewhere.
Going forward, nominations in the animated feature category will be open to anyone in the Academy willing to join a nominating committee. That puts it closer to the British Academy model, and counter to the process of nearly every other feature field, where members of the separate branches are charged with determining nominations. (Animated nominees will also be decided via preferential ballot now, like the best picture category, rather than a numerical scoring system.)
But things have always been a little different in this category; previously, the committee was supposed to »
- Kristopher Tapley
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