17 films that changed director – after shooting had started

From Spartacus to Beethoven, films sometimes change director, even though production has begun. For many reasons, too...

It’s a long job directing a movie. Not withstanding the prep work that needs to be done, once you’re on set, there’s generally weeks of production to contend with, and that’s before you get to the edit room. No wonder, then, that sometimes, the person who starts off directing the film isn’t the one sat on the chair by the time a wrap is finally called. Here’s a mix of examples, across many decades…

Bad Girls

The 1990s western Bad Girls was a few weeks into production when its director got the boot. Tamra Davis was the original choice (she would go on to helm the likes of Billy Madison and Crossroads), and she was steering the story of four women – played by Madeleine Stowe, Mary Stuart Masterston, Drew Barrymore and Andie MacDowell – who, er, decide to leave prostitution behind and start a new life. It’s like the synopsis for The ExpendaBelles, just 20 years too early.

The original script for Bad Girls was written by Yolande Turner and Becky Johnston, yet the production company behind the movie grew unhappy with the direction that Davis was taking it, and it took drastic action. Tamra Davis was sacked, and Unlawful Entry director Jonathan Kaplan got the call. He started from scratch, with a hasty script rewrite adding Cynda Williams’ character. Kaplan upped the amount of action, with producer Lynda Obst telling Premiere “there’s less sitting around talking” in the new version.

The change didn’t work. Bad Girls was hated by critics, and this wasn’t one of those instances where the audience saved it either. Just $15m was banked in the US for the film, and it’s pretty much disappeared from most people’s minds. Not Tamra Davis’ though, we’d wager, whose original vision for the western was long gone by the time a homogenous action flick turned up in cinemas.

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Spartacus

Kirk Douglas’ film writing is well worth exploring, not least his recent book, I Am Spartacus. In it, he talks through the extensive production of what’s now seen as a cinema classic, and lifts the lid on just what problems there were behind the scenes.

One of the biggest issues is well known. Stanley Kubrick went on to direct Spartacus, but he wasn’t the original choice. Instead, when filming first began, it was Anthony Mann who was in charge. “Mann was a technician. Not an artist. Not a perfectionist. He was the kind of guy the studios loved because he could keep a picture on schedule and bring it in on budget”, Douglas wrote.

By week three of production, Spartacus was over budget and running late. Douglas took a call from Universal production boss Ed Muhl. Universal had chosen Mann as director over Douglas’ wishes, but the order came through: Douglas was producing the film, Douglas had to fire Anthony Mann. Mann got the bullet on Friday February 13th 1959, with Kirk Douglas insisting he pick the next director. Not that he and Stanley Kubrick would particularly get along…

A Dandy In Aspic

Let’s stick with Anthony Mann for this next one. His last film before his death was A Dandy In Aspic, which starred Tom Courtney and Laurence Harvey, However, Mann would not see the film through to the end.

The film was well into production when Mann suffered a heart attack and died, in August 1967. He was 60 years old. The film was thus completed by Laurence Harvey, who shot material in Berlin, and oversaw the edit of the movie. Mann was given sole credit at the time of the film’s 1968 release.

The Island Of Dr Moreau

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Comfortably one of the best known examples on this list, The Island Of Dr Moreau is one of Hollywood’s most notoriously bad movies of the 1990s, with stories circulating of a less-than-cooperative Val Kilmer, and Marlon Brando being, well, pretty much Marlon Brando-like.

The film was a dream project for Hardware director Richard Stanley, but it didn’t take long to turn into a nightmare. New Line Cinema pulled the trigger on him just three days into production, arguing that his failure to keep Val Kilmer under control was costing him his job. That said, replacement director John Frankenheimer didn’t have much more luck in that regard, and the film lumbered towards its pitiful final cut.

Stanley did get back on set, though, sneaking in disguised as one of the extras. He got to witness just how badly things ended up going first hand. It was not pleasant viewing. On the upside, the film would inspire the character of Mini-Me in the Austin Powers movies…

Heat

No, not that one.

The 1986 movie Heat was recently remade with Jason Statham in the lead role as Wild CardWild Card has had one director from start to finish – that’d be Con Air‘s Simon West. But the original, non-Michael Mann Heat? It burned through six of them according to its writer, William Goldman. Even though we don’t know who all six of them are.

Burt Reynolds headlined the movie, and originally, the late Robert Altman was to direct. He left after one day of shooting. In came Dick Richards, who eventually took final credit. But he and Burt Reynolds didn’t get on, leading to an incident where the two of them apparently engaged in fisticuffs.

Next, then? Jerry Jameson took on the job for a while, before Dick Richards was lured back. However, fate was not on his side: a swift fall from a camera crane, and he was in hospital. It took an arbitration by the Director’s Guild Of America to determine that Dick Richards was responsible for more of the finished film than any other director, with 41% of it being his. Jerry Jameson, meanwhile, took credit for 31%. Richards, for what it’s worth, said that he only shot for 13 days, and that he didn’t put the edit together. Lawsuits continued for many, many years afterwards.

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The remake, to our knowledge, all went far more smoothly…

WarGames

He hasn’t directed a movie since the infamous bomb Gigli, but Martin Brest nonetheless can console himself with the fact that he hasBeverly Hills CopMidnight Run, and Scent Of A Woman on his CV. But he could have had one more.

He was the original director of the much-loved 80s movie WarGames, starring Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy. But when the first dailies started coming through, the studio wasn’t impressed. The key criticism? That nobody in the film looked like they were having sufficient amounts of fun. That Brest had somehow got the tone and feel of the piece wrong. Why would anyone be downbeat given the threat of nuclear destruction anyway?

John Badham came in and had to get down to work quickly. In this instance, though, some bits of Martin Brest’s material did make it into the final cut. But it remains mainly regarded as a John Badham film. One that’s being remade….

Rumor Has It

A fairly well known one this. The romantic comedy Rumor Has It, starring Kevin Costner and Jennifer Aniston, was originally supposed to be directed by Ted Griffin. He penned the original screenplay for the movie (as well as writing Matchstick Men and the Ocean’s Eleven remake), using as its basis a rumor about who was the inspiration for the character of Mrs Robinson in The Graduate.

12 days into shooting of the movie, however, Warner Bros fired Griffin from the director’s chair. As the New York Times noted at the time, it was the first time Warner Bros had done this since Superman II.

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Griffin had been working on the project for three years, and it was set to be his directorial debut. The production, suggests the report, was already behind schedule and “going incredibly slow,” and Griffin had also given his cinematographer the boot the week before.

Rumor Has It was then shut down for nine days whilst new director Rob Reiner came in and retooled the film. He made casting changes, bringing in Kathy Bates for instance, and reworked part of the script. It’s believed that none of Griffin’s footage made it into the cut of the ultimately not-very-good film.

Crazy People

One of Dudley Moore’s better comedies of the late 80s, about an honest advertising executive who strikes gold. But both in front of and behind the camera, there were changes once production had begun. The film, for instance, was supposed to star John Malkovich, but he dropped out two weeks into filming, and Moore was brought in.

By that stage, though, there’d already been a change of director. Mitch Markowitz, who penned the screenplay (as well as the script forGood Morning, Vietnam) was to make his directorial debut on the film. But he lasted three days, before he was replaced, for reasons unknown. Tony Bill took over, and steered the movie to completion.

Beethoven

Director Brian Levant hardly has a catalogue of well-loved films to his credit, but he’s had his successes. Beethoven is arguably the most popular of them amongst audiences, and the series continues to this day. But Levant came in as a late replacement on the project, after filming had begun.

Beethoven was originally being helmed by Steve Rash, who would go on to direct straight to DVD sequels to the likes of Bring It On (he did two of those), Road Trip and American Pie (he also helmed The Buddy Holly Story, helping to steer Gary Busey to an Oscar nomination). But for reasons never revealed, he departed the project, and Levant got his chance. A boxset was born…

The Outlaw Josey Wales

Arguably one of the best films Clint Eastwood has ever directed, The Outlaw Josey Wales wasn’t actually supposed to see him call the shots. Instead, Philip Kaufman – who had co-written the script with Sonia Chernus – was the named director.

However, shortly into production, it’s clear there was a problem. Tittle tattle suggests that the point where both Eastwood and Kaufman asked female lead Sondra Locke out on a date was at the heart of the problem, although nobody – to our knowledge – has gone on record. Yet what was clear was that Eastwood wanted Kaufman replaced. The star got his wish, and he took over directing the film.

Not without consequences, though. As acclaimed as The Outlaw Josey Wales deservedly is, it led to the introduction of what’s known to this day as The Eastwood Rule. This was brought about by the Directors’ Guild of America (DGA), in response to what it saw was the ousting of Kaufman. As such, the rule dictates that no actor or producer can sack the director of a production, and take over the job themselves.

The Wizard Of Oz

If the set is calm and everyone gets on, goes the cliche, then you’re unlikely to get a strong end result. If everyone struggles to get along, and the Defcon setting on set is constantly changing, you’re apparently on far better ground. Er, the metaphorical Defcon setting, we should note.

The Wizard Of Oz, then. The 1939 classic was eventually credited to Victor Fleming, and yet he was far from the first. When cameras started rolling on the film, Norman Taurog was directing, but he quickly left the production. Richard Thorpe very quickly took over, and he shot the film for a fortnight – including Dorothy meeting Scarecrow on the Yellow Brick Road – before he too got the heave-ho. You won’t find his material in the final cut of the movie, though.

George Cukor held the fort until Victor Fleming came in, and the bulk of the film is his. However, before the end of production, he too was gone, this time to go and shoot Gone With The Wind. The final footage for The Wizard Of Oz was shot by King Vidor, with producer Mervyn LeRoy also doing some work behind the camera.

If you’re counting, that’s technically six people directing the film at different stages, although only four of them got material into the final cut (Cukor didn’t actually get to shoot any footage).

Gone With The Wind

Well, it makes sense to do this one straight after talking about The Wizard Of Oz. George Cukor, who stood in on that movie before Victor Fleming took over, was the original director for Gone With The Wind, and had three weeks of footage in the can. But it had taken quite an effort to get them, and disagreements behind the scenes sealed his fate. Producer David O. Selznick reportedly didn’t get on with Cukor, and leading man Clark Gable was rumoured to be less-than-enamoured too.

A joint statement was released then, announcing that Cukor was leaving the film, although even at the time, the reading was hardly that it was coming from the director himself. In came Victor Fleming, straight from The Wizard Of Oz set, and he hastily got to work on shaping Gone With The Wind. Selznick would declare that Cukor wasn’t up for the scale of the production, although the director would go on to make The Philadelphia Story.

Even after all that though, Victor Fleming wouldn’t finish Gone With The Wind himself: he suffered a collapse nearly three months after taking over the film, and instead, Sam Wood polished off the remaining pieces of shooting.

Exorcist: The Beginning

A recent high profile case this, one that led to two different cuts of the same film.

Exorcist: The Beginning was designed as a sequel to William Friedkin’s 1973 original, and John Frankenheimer had been set to direct the film. He had to leave the project however, and he would sadly pass on shortly afterwards. Paul Schrader, instead, jumped aboard, and he shot the movie, delivering a cut.

The thing is, the producers really weren’t happy with it. In fact, such was their dissatisfaction with Schrader’s take on the material, Morgan Creek Productions took a highly unusual step: it brought in another director to completely overhaul the film, and make it more conventional.

Cliffhanger and Die Hard 2 helmer Renny Harlin got the call, and it would be fair to say that he did not fare well. When Exorcist: The Beginning was finally released, it got savaged by critics, and didn’t get much more joy from audiences. In fact, so underwhelming was the end result that Morgan Creek gave Paul Schrader a small pot of cash to finish his cut, known as Dominion: Prequel To The Exorcist, and it gave his version a limited release. Its reception was more positive, with critics warming more to its cerebral, rather than ‘blunt’ approach. Not that it made much difference to Morgan Creek’s coffers in the end…

Rough Cut

Don Siegel made many, many memorable films throughout his career, although his 1980 heist thriller Rough Cut rarely gets mentioned. It starred Burt Reynolds, Lesley-Anne Down and David Niven, and as the Ottawa Citizen reported back in August 1979, Siegel was fired from the movie in the middle of the film. In his place, Peter Hunt took the controls, with The Pink Panther‘s Blake Edwards at one stage in talks to take over the production.

However, Don Siegel was reinstated in the end, after Hunt had been working on the movie. The reason? Because Burt Reynolds lobbied hard for his return. On his work to bring Siegel back to the London set of the movie, Reynolds said at the time “I think I’ve done more in the past three days than Henry Kissinger did in three years… Fortunately, Don kept his temper about everything and stayed cool and waited”.

Rough Cut would be his penultimate movie, before his death in 1991.

Superman II

Ah, Superman. The original plan, as ordered by the Salkind brothers, was to shoot the first two Supermanmovies together. And that’s just what director Richard Donner basically did. He put together the entirety of Superman: The Movie and around three quarters of Superman II into place in the main bulk of shooting, with production ceasing to get the first film ready. That, and there was the small matter of the Salkinds’ cash-flow, with Warner Bros stepping in to cover production overruns. Of which there were many.

The plan was that Donner would resume his work on Superman II once he’d completed what became Superman: The Movie, but the Salkinds had other ideas. They wanted their Superman film to have a lighter feel, and thus Donner never got the call back. In his place was Richard Lester – who would go on to direct Superman III – and he shot the remaining footage for Superman II. Gene Hackman, for one, sided with Donner, and refused to come back for further photography.

The late Christopher Reeve was a little more cautious. “Of all the names mentioned, I think Dick Lester was probably the wisest choice to finish Part Two,” he said at the time. “But of course I’ll miss Dick Donner. He was wonderful to work with.”

Superman II is credited, therefore, to Richard Lester, who also supervised the edit. But eventually, after much fan pressure, a Richard Donner Cut was put together. This was done without Donner’s hands-on involvement, yet it effectively shaped the film as Donner had intended. That said, it’s no finished production, so the alternate cut is a little rough and ready. We like both, in truth…

Brave

We could be here all day were this piece to focus on animation directors who have left projects mid-production. Recent ventures such as Cars 2, Rise Of The GuardiansTangledRatatouilleBolt, and this year’s The Good Dinosaur have all seen changes in personnel.

But let’s focus on Brave. The film had been conceived by Brenda Chapman, previously co-director of DreamWorks’ The Prince Of Egypt. She built the film around the relationship with her daughter, and yet – in spite of her being credited as co-director and picking up an Oscar for the film – she was removed by Pixar from the production a year before release. Creative differences were cited, and Mark Andrews took over full time directing Brave, seeing it through to release.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Penny Marshall built herself a career as one of Hollywood’s most successful directors, throughout the 1980s and 1990s in particular, with films such as BigA League Of Their Own, and Awakenings. Yet she got her feature debut – having directed TV beforehand – on the Whoopi Goldberg-headlinedJumpin’ Jack Flash. The film, which proved to be a good hit for all concerned, was originally to be directed by the late Howard Zieff (who had hits with the likes of Private Benjamin and My Girl 2).

However, roughly six weeks into production, Marshall got the call asking her to take the job on. As she told the Chicago Tribune back in 1986, “it was hell – it was insane. It was quite an experience, an amazing learning experience. I had a lot to learn and this was one way to do it!”

Marshall had originally been slated to helm Peggy Sue Got Married before Francis Ford Coppola took over. But as she conceded in the interview with the Tribune, Jumpin’ Jack Flash fitted her better.

Incidentally, do check out Marshall’s book, My Mother Was Nuts. It’s well worth a read.

And finally…

It’s going to be some years before we find out – if at all – just what happened come the end of production on Dredd. Pete Travis shot the movie, but reports suggested that he had been fired in post-production, with Alex Garland – who has since directed the excellent Ex Machina – taking over. A subsequent statement from Garland and Travis insisted the director hadn’t been fired at all. Travis has not spoken about the film since, though, and nor was he part of the film’s publicity tour.

Another recent example? Try Chasing Mavericks, which was to be the new movie from L.A. Confidential helmer Curtis Hanson. However, when Hanson suffered complications from then-recent heart surgery, Michael Apted shot the last 15 days of the movie. He received co-director credit.

Still, this list is supposed to be more a cross section than an exhaustive rundown. Feel free to add more examples in the comments, though…