Paul Schrader is no stranger to editing room battles. His travails during the production of “Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist” are well documented, and in the case of last year’s “The Canyons,” screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis described the film Schrader turned in versus the one his script envisioned, and a similar scenario seems to have occurred during production of the director’s upcoming movie, “The Dying Of The Light.”
Penned by Schrader, the film follows a C.I.A. agent who is afflicted with blindness while on his last mission. At one point a few years ago, Nicolas Winding Refn was slated to direct, but the project collapsed when Harrison Ford (who was set to star alongside Channing Tatum) and the filmmaker couldn’t come to terms about the fate of his character. The movie was revived recently with Schrader now directing his own script, Refn staying on as a producer, and with Nicolas Cage and Anton Yelchin in the lead roles. Filming proceeded at the beginning of the year, and by all accounts it went smoothly, but problems began when Schrader went into the editing room. After delivering his first cut, “extensive” notes from the film’s producers arrived .
“We made suggestions, which Paul to a large extent didn’t approve of, and so he refused to make the changes that we all wanted, despite the fact that the changes we were looking for were very much in line with the script that he wrote and shot,” producer Gary Hirsch told Variety. Producer Todd Williams added, “Paul’s cut of the movie deviated substantially from his own script. It was a completely different movie from the movie that was greenlit, the movie that was discussed and the movie that was shot.”
Of course, there are two sides to every story, and Schrader claims he was effectively locked out of the editing process after handing in a second cut that only made some of the requested changes. “I was never asked back. They finally showed me their cut only as they were entering final post-production. It was a fait accompli,” he states. Meanwhile, the producers assert that Schrader handed in his second cut and then left the project in their hands.
According to Hirsch and Williams, the two versions —theirs and Schrader’s— “are 80 percent the same,” perhaps failing to recognize that 1/5 of a movie being taken away from a director is still fairly substantial. Accounts from those who have seen the producers’ cut say it doesn’t have the trademark stamp of Schrader’s work and is a far more “conventional” movie. And some of the changes to Schrader’s movie included “tightened pacing, the recutting of several action scenes, and the removal of a voiceover narration.” But, 80 percent the same, right?
For his part, Refn calls the dispute “artistic disrespect,” siding with Schrader in the matter, and notes Cage is upset as well, adding that the actor “is very frustrated because, in his mind, he and Paul made a great movie that both of them are very proud of —and for that to be taken away from them, it doesn’t make any sense.”
No word yet on an official release date for “The Dying Of The Light,” though the producers say “it’s coming out before the end of the year.” But we’d reckon there’s probably a lot more to come from all sides before the film arrives in cinemas.