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10 Filmmakers Who Disowned Their Own Movies

10 Filmmakers Who Disowned Their Own Movies

This week has seen the arrival of one of the most curious cinematic items of the last few years, one that few thought would ever see the light of day: Stephen Greene’s “Accidental Love.” Never heard of it? That’s because the film was at one time known as “Nailed” and was shot by Oscar-nominated “The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle” director David O. Russell, for whom the seemingly non-existent Greene is a pseudonym.

“Nailed” predates the three Russell films listed above: it’s a political satire about a waitress (Jessica Biel) shot in the head with a nailgun that causes hypersexual behavior, who then teams with an ambitious congressman (Jake Gyllenhaal) to campaign for those with unusual injuries. The film went before cameras back in 2008, but production was halted multiple times after difficulties with financiers and was eventually shut down without the completion of key scenes.

Legal battles ensued, and Russell eventually walked away from the film, which hit VOD on Tuesday under its (awful) new title and without the helmer’s consent. We’ll have our verdict on the movie very soon, but to mark the film’s release, we have examined ten other cases in which filmmakers completed, but then disowned, their own films. Take a look below and let us know anyone we might have missed in the comments.

Noah Baumbach – “Highball” (1997)
Before his collaborations with Wes Anderson, before his indie hit “Frances Ha” and before The Squid and The Whale,” the film that put him on the map, Noah Baumbach experienced the same troubles thousands of other aspiring filmmakers go through. After his debut “Kicking & Screaming” and the lesser follow-up “Mr. Jealousy,” Baumbach shot “Highball” in six days on a shoestring budget. However, his name appears nowhere in the credits (apart from a minor acting credit), because he disowned the film as a “foolish experiment,” as he told the A.V. Club. In the same interview, Baumbach elaborates: “it was a funny script. But it was just too ambitious. We didn’t have enough time, we didn’t finish it, it didn’t look good, it was just a whole… mess.” After a “falling out with the producer,” the movie ended up half-finished in Baumbach’s eyes, and without his approval, directed by “Ernie Fusco” and written by “Jesse Carter” (both aliases). Though “Highball” doesn’t hold much of a candle to Baumbach’s later successes, it’s still a must for Baumbach diehards, as it contains the director’s penchant for quick-witted dialogue and his laid back style, even if it’s a decidedly lesser effort.
Tony Kaye – “American History X” (1998)
The story behind the feud that erupted between music video director Tony Kaye and New Line, the studio financing his feature debut, is filled with such bizarre antics and accusations that it deserves its own documentary. Apparently, Kaye documented his trials and tribulations with the studios and guilds over “American History X,” calling it “Humpty Dumpty and The Kabbalah” (it’s going to make sense in a minute, but doesn’t that sound like something you need in your life?) The final straw was a disagreement between Kaye and New Line over the final cut of the film, when the studio rejected Kaye’s preferred (apparently even more pessimistic) finale. Kaye threatened to walk, New Line didn’t budge, and so he did, with the final cut supervised by the film’s star Edward Norton and editor Jerry Greenberg, with Kaye banned from the editing room. And that’s just the beginning. Kaye’s attempt to “Alan Smithee” his directorial credits was rejected by the DGA. He then tried to push another alias, Humpty Dumpty, and that (surprise, surprise) also didn’t work. He then tried to sue the guild for $200 million and basically alienated the entire Hollywood community via his anti-Hollywood ravings and antics, which included a meeting at New Line with a rabbi and a Tibetan monk by his side. Needless to say, he only disowned himself from the final cut in spirit because he never succeeded in getting his directorial credit removed. As The Dissolve reported last year, Kaye is still bitter about the whole affair, but concedes that the performances are excellent and the overall film is “good.” Need we remind you that the film, which raised this much dust behind the scenes, is one of the most gripping, memorable and gut-wrenching anti-racist films to come out in the past 40-odd years? Hollywood is weird, man.

Matthieu Kassovitz, “Babylon A.D.” (2008)
One of the more recent director-studio feuds, “La Haine” director Matthieu Kassovitz’s frustrations with 20th Century Fox over “Babylon A.D.,” a sci-fi action film he’d been developing for six years before going through tremendous professional pains to shoot and cut it, is among the most notorious. There’s a documentary on YouTube titled Fucking Kassovitz: Making of Babylon A.D.” (but you’ll need to understand French if you want to follow in full) that provides the whole story. After developing the project, Kassovitz finally went into production in 2007 with Vin Diesel, the somewhat unlikely star, and various problems beset the production. Right before the film’s release date, Kassovitz was ripping it apart before the critics got their chance (not that they held back once they got to see it; the film was universally panned). When it was time to voice his opinion on the experience, Kassovitz held nothing back: “I’m very unhappy with the film. I never had a chance to do one scene the way it was written or the way I wanted it to be. The script wasn’t respected. Bad producers, bad partners, it was a terrible experience…I should have chosen a studio that has guts. Fox was just trying to get a PG-13 movie. I’m ready to go to war against them, but I can’t because they don’t give a shit.” Fox representatives countered with accusations that Kassovitz had breakdowns on set and delayed the shooting (which caused the project to go over its budget), which the director, in turn, denied. It’s another case where a director tries to officially disown his project, but failing that goes on such a vicious tirade it should give every aspiring filmmaker second thoughts on their Hollywood dreams.           

Robert Totten/Don Siegel – “Death Of A Gunfighter“ (1969)
A flawed, but nevertheless interesting, minor Western that fits neatly into the revisionist movement in the genre at the end of the 1960s/beginning of the 1970s, “Death Of A Gunfighter” is best remembered as the film that birthed the name “Alan Smithee” (or here in its original spelling, ‘Allen Smithee’), which became the standard DGA pseudonym when a director took their name off a movie for the next thirty years. The Universal Pictures film about an old-school lawman (Richard Widmark) in a Texas town, trying to “modernize,” who comes into conflict with the elders after killing a man in self-defense, was originally directed by TV Westerns helmer Robert Totten, a veteran of “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza.” But Widmark was throwing his weight around and clashed with Totten, and arranged for his removal after about 25 days of the shoot, with the great Don Siegel (“Invasion of The Body Snatchers,” “Hell Is For Heroes” and later “Dirty Harry”) brought on to complete the picture. Siegel shot for only ten days and had about as much footage in the finished film as had been shot by Totten, but neither director wanted credit (Siegel said that Widmark had been essentially calling the shots anyway), and the DGA agreed that the film wasn’t representative of either helmer. Director John Rich, who served on the guild’s board of directors at the time, told the LA Times that after the pseudonym “Alan Smith” was rejected for being too common, two Es were added, and “Allen Smithee” was born. The fictional filmmaker earned praise from the critics, too: Roger Ebert said that “Smithee, a name I’m not familiar with, allows his story to unfold naturally,” while the New York Times added that Smithee “has an adroit facility for scanning faces and extracting sharp background detail.” Both remain true today, even if the film undeniably is redolent of compromise.        

David Lynch, William Friedkin, Michael Mann & more – “Dune,” “The Guardian,” “Heat” etc.
As you might hope, “Alan Smithee” is only used in exceptional circumstances, and most of the movies credited to the non-existent director are rightly forgotten: Mark Harmon/Robert Duvall actioner “Let’s Get Harry” (actually helmed by “Cool Hand Luke” director Stuart Rosenberg), Jon Cryer comedy “Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home,” ropey Charlton Heston sci-fi “Solar Crisis” (originally by “Vanishing Point” director Richard C. Sarafian), with Dennis Hopper’s “Catchfire,” starring Jodie Foster, perhaps being the best known example. But true-blue auteurs have ended up using the pseudonym: not for theatrical releases, but for butchered, home entertainment versions of their movies. Lynch was one of the first: an hour had been chopped out of his big-budget sci-fi flop, “Dune,” for theatrical release, but when a new two-part ,186 minute version was aired on TV in 1988, Lynch was furious, using the Alan Smithee pseudonym (and “Judas Booth” as his writing credit). Other filmmakers had the opposite problem, having to deal with truncated and censored edits for television: Michael Apted, William Friedkin, David Anspaugh and Martin Brest removed their names from the studio-mandated TV or in-flight edits of “Thunderheart,” “The Guardian,” “Rudy” and “Meet Joe Black” respectively. Michael Mann had a more high-profile case than most: NBC wanted to cut his three-hour crime epic, “Heat,” down in order to accommodate commercials for a three-hour slot when it premiered on TV in 1999. Mann offered to add unseen footage, cut from the theatrical cut, to fit a four-hour slot (or be aired over two nights), but NBC ultimately chose to go with their own truncated version, which inspired Mann’s fury. He told Variety “they cut so much out of the movie that they destroyed the narrative of the film along with its integrity. Artistically, I deplore what they did and I also criticized it as being piss-poor management of an asset they paid a lot of money for.” The broadcast version was credited to Smithee, as was the TV edit of “The Insider” a few years later.

Arthur Hiller – “An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn” (1998)
Alan Smithee eventually met his match, and the film that caused his demise derailed multiple careers and proved a giant flop In the 1990s. Joe Eszterhas was the most successful screenwriter in Hollywood at the time, selling scripts for “Jagged Edge,” “Basic Instinct,” “Sliver” and, uh, “Showgirls” for record-breaking sums. Despite his enormous success, Eszterhas seemingly felt slighted by the industry in which he made his living, and decided to bite the hand that fed him with Hollywood satire “An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn,” in which director Eric Idle makes a $200 million action movie (starring Sylvester Stallone, Jackie Chan and, um, Whoopi Goldberg) and tries to take his name off of it after studio interference, but is unable to because his name is actually Alan Smithee. It’s pretty baffling that an obscure industry by-law could inspire a whole movie, and it’s indicative of the entirely misjudged level of the film, which combines desperately obvious and unfunny inside-baseball gags with toxic misogyny and misanthropy. Eszterhas’ success nevertheless saw the film get a green light with veteran director Arthur Hiller (“Love Story,” “The In-Laws,” “The Hospital”) nominally in charge. Yet Eszterhas attempted to take over in the editing room, reportedly shutting Hiller out and causing the director, a former president of both DGA and the Academy, to take his name off of the film and replace it, fittingly, with Alan Smithee. Whether you believe that was actually the case or whether it was a stupid publicity stunt, it doesn’t matter. The film was rightly savaged by critics, made just $50,000 at the box office, which must be close to a record for a major studio production (it was produced by Disney subsidiary Hollywood Pictures), and essentially ended Eszterhas’ career. The public nature of the movie and its use of Smithee also caused the DGA to retire the Smithee pseudonym, with John Rich telling the LA Times in 2000 that “Eszterhas ruined it… [Smithee]’s been damaged to the point that it’s unworkable.”

Walter Hill – “Supernova” (2000)
Having produced and helped shepherd the “Alien” franchise, veteran action helmer, Walter Hill (“The Driver,” “The Warriors” et al), ventured into space himself for long-gestating sci-fi horror “Supernova” to the acclaim of exactly no one, Hill included. In development as far back as 1988 by “House On Haunted Hill” director William Malone, the film circled development hell at MGM for a decade, with “Romper Stomper” director Geoffrey Wright briefly attached, before Hill eventually stepped in, rewriting the script (without apparently knowing that his studio bosses were happier with the previous version). Shooting got underway on the story (about a search-and-rescue medical spaceship that rescues a man who’s smuggled an alien artifact on board), with a cast including Angela Bassett, James Spader, Robert Forster and none-more-nineties faces like Robin Tunney and Peter Facinelli, but things went swiftly south, with the studio cutting Hill’s budget midway through production. It got worse in post-production, as Hill told the DGA in an interview years later: “We limped in, in post we had a tremendous amount of effect stuff to do. They decided they wanted to preview the movie without the effects. I said this was insane, it’s a science fiction movie. The effects had to be added. They wanted to see how it played. I told them it would be like shit, terrible, very bad preview, you will give up on the movie. These previews under these conditions are political. ‘Are you saying you won’t preview the movie?’ I said ‘You own the goddamn thing. If you want to preview it, I can’t prevent you, but I won’t go.’ They saw this as defiance.” The tests went predictably bad, Hill quit the movie, and horror director Jack Sholder (“Nightmare On Elm Street 2”) was brought in for reshoots, while Francis Ford Coppola, then a board member for MGM, was reportedly heavily involved in the editing room. By the time the film was being readied for release nearly two years after production began, Hill wanted nothing to do with it. Despite a few nifty moments, most notably some zero-G sex, it’s a derivative, cheap mess, one that probably wouldn’t have been much cop if Hill had been fully in control, but that was certainly much worse thanks to the many cooks messing with the broth. Hill and the DGA agreed that his name would be replaced, but for the first time in years, “Alan Smithee” was replaced with a new pseudonym, Thomas Lee (so far, no one’s has used it since).

Robert Towne – “Greystoke: The Legend Of Tarzan, Lord Of The Apes” (1984)
Harry Potter” director David Yates is currently in post-production on a new big-budget version of “Tarzan” for Warner Bros., starring Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Samuel L Jackson and Christoph Waltz, due for release next year. If Yates can manage to include anything as entertaining as the behind-the-scenes machinations on a Tarzan pic from thirty years earlier, “Greystoke: The Legend Of Tarzan, Lord Of The Apes,” we should be in for a treat. Predicting the current trend for gritty retellings of classic pulp tales, ‘Greystoke’ was a passion project for “Chinatown” and “Shampoo” screenwriter Robert Towne. He’d been working on the script for eight years and had been inspired to move into directing by his desire to make sure it was done right (“I suddenly realized that I’d written a bunch of descriptions without much dialogue to go along with it. I’d reached the age where I realized that I couldn’t necessarily just turn that over to a director and say ‘Don’t fuck it up.’” he’d later tell the AV Club). Towne prepped what would have been a big-budget endeavor by helming the smaller-scale drama “Personal Best,” about female track-and-field athletes, but in order to be allowed to complete the film, Towne had to give Warner Bros. the rights to his beloved ‘Greystoke” script. The studio swiftly hired Hugh Hudson, hot off the Oscar-winning “Chariots Of Fire” to direct the finished film, with Christopher Lambert as the king of the swingers, along with Ralph Richardson, Ian Holm and, as Jane, a debuting Andie MacDowell, who hilariously had her voice dubbed over by Glenn Close due to her impenetrable Southern accent. Towne was devastated at the loss, and at revisions by writer Michael Austin, later telling the New York Times “that was as a horrifying experience, a heartbreaker, as unbearable as a professional loss ever gets. It was going to be the one great movie I’d done in my life. It was about my own personal ethical, philosophical convictions about not being able to stand seeing precious forms of life wiped out, and to see the thing turned back into a Tarzan movie.” In protest, Towne replaced his name on the writing credits with that of his sheepdog, P.H. Vazak (though, why you’d call your sheepdog P.H. Vazak is beyond us). The film picked up decent reviews and box office (it’s stodgy, but watchable), and among the film’s three Oscar nominations was one for Vazak’s screenplay, making him the only canine to ever be nominated for screenwriting, as far as we’re aware…

Paul Schrader – “The Dying Of The Light” (2014)
It’s safe to say that writer-director Paul Schrader, of “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull” and “Blue Collar” fame, has had one of the more colorful and unpredictable careers in Hollywood, going from an ultra-religious, movie-free upbringing to making a movie with Lindsay Lohan and porn star James Deen. He’s also been no stranger to studio meddling, having been hired to helm “Dominion,” a prequel to the “Exorcist,” after the death of John Frankenheimer, but the studio ended up shooting the film again, virtually from scratch, with a mostly different cast, with Renny Harlin directing (some elements of Schrader’s version survive, but not many). The film was slaughtered by critics, and Schrader was eventually allowed to release “Dominion” as the alternate version, though reviews weren’t much better. Schrader also survived the tumultous production of Lohan/Deen pic “The Canyons,” falling out with writer Bret Easton Ellis in the process, but worse was to come with his CIA-themed script “The Dying Of The Light.” Following a veteran spy suffering from the early stages of dementia, who nonetheless sets out to track down his long-time terrorist quarry, Schrader’s screenplay was initially a hot property, attracting Nicolas Winding Refn as director post-”Bronson,” and landing Harrison Ford and Channing Tatum as the leads. But Ford was reportedly not happy with the script’s ending and walked. Refn went to make “Drive,”and Schrader ended up in the director’s chair himself, with Nicolas Cage and Anton Yelchin in the cast. The film shot early last year in Romania and Australia, but the project soon fell apart once it went into the editing room. Producer Gary Hirsch told Variety that after seeing the first cut, “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.” They claim that the director walked off the project after delivering a second cut that didn’t address the issues with the movie, while Schrader says he was essentially fired, along with editor Tim Silano, leaving the producers to recut, rescore and even regrade the movie. Contractually, Schrader was barred from officially disowning or disparaging the film, but as Lionsgate released the movie’s trailer, he posted an image of himself, Cage, Yelchin and Refn (who’d remained on board as executive producer) wearing t-shirts bearing the non-disparagement clause from their contracts. Allegedly, the New York Film Festival wanted to screen Schrader’s cut, but that didn’t come to pass (perhaps because of objections from the producers), and when released in December last year, the film received poisonous notices (including ours). Let’s hope Schrader has better luck next time out…

Jim Sheridan – “Dream House” (2011)
2011 chiller “Dream House” is remembered, if it’s remembered at all, for two things. The first is for being the film on which future married couple Rachel Weisz and Daniel Craig, who co-starred in the picture alongside Naomi Watts, Elias Koteas and Marton Csokas, met. The second is for being a total disaster, and probably one of the worst studio pictures of the decade so far. Director Jim Sheridan likely agrees with us on the second point. Coming from the six-time Oscar-nominated director of “My Left Foot,” “In The Name Of The Father” and “In America” among others, and with that stellar line-up involved, you’d think this would have been a smart and prestige-y film, but it’s a fairly familiar chiller with some well-trodden twists and turns that could probably only ever have been so-so in the execution. After release date delays, it emerged that Sheridan had been clashing with financiers Morgan Creek. Once the film opened in September 2011 to dismal reviews and poor box office (and this after a trailer that had given away the film’s big plot surprise), the full story emerged. According to an LA Times article the week after release, Sheridan had deviated from the script by David Loucka, encouraging improvisation from the cast, which the backers disapproved of. After terrible test scores and some unsuccessful reshoots, Morgan Creek took control of the cut, leading Sheridan to go to the DGA to remove his name from the film (there were some suggestions at the time that the “Alan Smithee” credit could have been revived) — it’s the most high profile recent example of a filmmaker disowning his own film. Sheridan eventually withdrew his attempt after Morgan Creek agreed to concessions, including a second set of reshoots, but essentially no one was happy. The film grossed under $40 million worldwide, $10 million less than the stated budget, while neither Sheridan or his cast did any press for the movie — a rarity at at time where filmmakers and performers are usually contractually obliged to do so. 

There are plenty of others who got their disown on, including the many Alan Smithee credits and also Kiefer Sutherland’s directorial effort “Woman Wanted” and horror sequel “Hellraiser: Bloodline.” Other filmmakers have used pseudonyms, too: “Pink Panther” director Blake Edwards was fired from the 1984 comedy “City Heat,” so he replaced his writing credit on the film with the name ‘Sam O’Brown.’

Some filmmakers stop short of actively disowning their early work, but are certainly keen that you don’t see it. Stanley Kubrick’s first feature 1953’s “Fear And Desire” was far from the filmmakers’ favorite work: when the Film Forum screened it in 1994, Kubrick put out a statement calling it “a bumbling amateur film exercise.” Steven Soderbergh had a similar reaction to his early heist picture “The Underneath,” saying after the fact that he wasn’t really ‘present.’ Any other notable disownments you can think of? Let us know in the comments.

– Oli Lyttelton, Nik Grozdanovic

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