Rogue One: We need different directors
A few months ago there was a report that Rogue One, the Star Wars spin-off, was undergoing weeks of additional photography, and that the brass at Disney were in a “panic” over an initial cut of the movie not testing well. That whole report seemed fishy to me, not because I don’t believe the reshoots happened—they happen all the time on blockbusters—but because Disney people don’t throw around words like “panic”. But there is more information coming out about the behind-the-scenes situation with Rogue One, and while no one is using the word “panic”, there’s clearly A Situation.
The Hollywood Reporter claims that five weeks of reshoots took place—that’s a lot. Five weeks is one-fourth of a standard production schedule for a movie of this size, so that’s a not-insignificant chunk of the movie being reworked. Five weeks is more than just “we need to shoot a surprise cameo and redo a scene because the lighting came out garbage”; that’s more like a significant overhaul, and the report says the ending was part of what went under the knife. THR further says that Tony Gilroy, writer of the Bourne movies, is “supervising” the editing, with director Gareth Edwards “collaborating” on the final cut. Danger, Will Robinson.
I’m not here to demonize reshoots. In and of themselves, they’re a necessary part of filmmaking, especially at the blockbuster level where so much can go wrong on the day and you just don’t have time to fix it right then. You schedule reshoots about halfway through post-production, because by then you have an idea of what you’re working with, and you know what, if anything, needs to be fixed.
So the alarm bell isn’t that Rogue One had reshoots, it’s that there is now, on the record, another filmmaker with significant input into the movie. And if you want to know how that usually goes, look no further than Suicide Squad. Another report from THR today confirms months of rumors that there was a lot of BTS drama on that movie, and that director David Ayer was competing with outside editors for the final cut of the film. (Ayer’s cut lost.) Suicide Squad is a f*cking mess—every bit of that back and forth is up there on the screen.
There’s so much money on the line with these blockbusters, it’s understandable why studios are so anxious about protecting their investment. But here’s the unspoken part of this story—the pool for blockbuster directors is surprisingly shallow. A LOT of top-tier, and even second-tier, directors aren’t willing to give up autonomy to make one, maybe two, installments in someone else’s story wheel.
This is why studios so often go for young up and comers, picking up directors right off the festival circuit, or culling talent from TV, where directors are guns for hire, not artistic captains. Those directors are cheaper, sure, but they’re also hungry for the opportunity. They’ll take the oversight of a fleet of producers and studio execs because it means putting their name on a potential billion-dollar hit. But for every Joss Whedon there’s a David Ayer, and for each Colin Trevorrow there’s a Josh Trank.
Which is all the more reason to look beyond the baseball cap bros for studio directors. There are so many talented directors who are languishing in their careers because they aren’t getting these opportunities. Gwyneth Horder-Payton, for example, is a tremendously talented director who has done stellar work on television shows like Sons of Anarchy and Justified, but who isn’t getting called by movie studios.
Why not is obvious, but it’s also stupid. Horder-Payton has a real flair for exciting action sequences, and she’s been working behind the camera for the last thirty years. She’s not only talented, she’s EXPERIENCED. She’s a no-brainer and ought to be among the first phone calls made if you’re looking for someone to direct a comic book movie, or space opera franchise. But will anyone call her in to pitch Avengers 5 or Star Wars 11? Or will the studios just hire another baseball cap bro and then ride herd on him when he loses control of his movie? How long do we keep playing this game?