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Directors Are the Captain of the Ship

Reshoots, additional scenes – finding out you don’t have the film you wanted.

So an actor friend of mine just spent the entire weekend on reshoots of a film he worked on in March…wow.

When you write a film you see it so clearly in your head.  Each character, each location, each motivation for each and every scene and it all seems to work so perfectly.  Then you shoot it and things change.

They can change because you lose a location and suddenly you are shooting a scene that was set in an office in a parking lot, or maybe you lose an actor at the last minute and can’t replace them, or the replacement throws the balance of the characters off.  Maybe you have an actor who just won’t do it like you want them to do it and you give up trying to explain and just let them do what they want and it makes no sense.  You can have technical issues, the light, the sound, the wardrobe, the makeup.  There really are an infinite number of reasons why what you get at the end of the shoot can look very, very different to what the script looked like in your head.

Of course, this can be a huge problem, and for the shoot my friend was on it appeared that the lead actor, not my friend, had somehow, subtly taken control away from the director and was running rogue with the story.  Sounds overly dramatic. But imagine if you hire an actor because they are experienced, love the script, work a lot, maybe even have a following and what you end up with is a megalomaniac who just won’t listen to what you want from them on set.

It’s happened to me and it’s very unpleasant. Some actors just don’t like to be directed.  But as the director you must have control on set otherwise you end up trying to do reshoots on the cheap three months later after you have spent hundreds of hours trying to put the pieces of your film together so it some how resembles what you originally imagined.  Nightmare!

It’s your film.  It’s your vision and, usually at our very, very independent level, it’s your bloody money.  But it’s a tough place to be in when your actor won’t listen.  It can throw everyone else off too, the rest of your crew as well as the other actors.  Everyone is looking to you for leadership.  They need boundaries not because they are infants but because the director holds the entire vision of the finished film in their heads.  As much as you can make a shooting script, hire a cinematographer and a script supervisor and an AD to help you fulfill your goals, it’s all on you…all of it.  So you had better have the ‘ovaries’ to make choices, make them quickly and make them stick.

This scenario is exactly why lead actors get fired from big films during the shoot and have to be very expensively replaced.  Because they think they know better than the director.  Even if that might be true, and occasionally it probably is, it just always has to be the directors movie.

This is also why directors get fired, the lead actor puts pressure on the studio or producers and they think they need them more than the director.  Or the director quits because they can’t lead on set…too much drama, too much mayhem, too much interference from producers or studios or lead actors. So many wonderful possibilities for disaster and that’s after you have spent years writing the script, raising the cash, casting, hiring crew, finding locations – all that work and then it all falls apart.

I’d love to tell you exactly how to avoid this, but honestly, it’s bound to happen at some point, just hope it happens on something small that you can correct fairly painlessly.  But to assume that you are special and that it will never happen to you because you “know what you are doing and have prepared for everything” just isn’t a reasonable expectation.

Disasters don’t mean you are useless.  Failure is how we learn. For the most part, it’s the only way we learn, actually.  That’s how our brains work so just accept it.

Directors have to be the captain of the ship, always.  Lives are at stake. Fortunes can be made and lost and there absolutely, definitely be monsters…Good luck!!

Here are some familiar films where this has happened…just to make you feel better.

“Moneyball” – Steven Soderburg was fired and replaced with Bennett Miller due to extreme creative differences with the film’s producers.

“Superman II” – Richard Donner was fired and replaced by Richard Lester due to the producers wanting the film to be more comedic and Donner’s annoyance at Marlon Brando’s paycheck.

“The Wizard of Oz” – Norman Taurog, Richard Thorpe replaced by George Cukor, Victor Fleming, King Vidor.  That’s a lot of directors and the reasons are endless.  The final film features footage directed by all of them, which is one of the reasons it cost so much I am sure!

“Gone With The Wind” – George Cukor was replaced by Victor Flemming.  Wow, it was quite the merry go round of directors, especially since “Gone With The Wind” and “Wizard of Oz” were shot simultaneously!

“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” – Alex Cox was fired and replaced by Terry Gilliam due to clashes with Johnny Depp and the producers. The film was 75% done and was totally reshot. It flopped.

This one surprised me…

“Jaws” – Dick Richards was fired and replaced with Steven Spielberg.  The film nearly killed the 27-year-old director and became the highest-grossing film of all time. Richards was fired because he kept calling the shark a whale.

Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros

Author: Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros

Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros is a British writer and filmmaker living In Los Angeles.

Samantha Simmonds-Ronceroshttps://www.imdb.com/name/nm4303729/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0
Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros is a British writer and filmmaker living In Los Angeles.