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Written and Directed by the Studio

Sam Corner debates the concept of creative control in the film industry; exploring the often antagonistic relationship between filmmaker and studio.

BY Sam Corner

The fight for creative control between the filmmaker and the studio in charge is becoming a more urgent subject to discuss within the film industry. From the multiple directors lost from the upcoming DC Comics Flash movie to the firing of Phil Lord and Chris Miller from Solo: A Star Wars Story, filmmakers are being controlled and torn away from their projects by Hollywood studios. This article will explore the clash between the director and the company in charge of their films and decide whether taking control over the director’s vision can be the worst thing to happen to a film, or in some cases, a good job in the long run.

Hollywood has become a playground for filmmakers all around the world to put together their dream projects. Emitting their unique quirks into these films and giving the audience a gloriously stamped piece of work enjoyed by millions. But Hollywood in recent years has also become a haven for studios to take over the creative control that filmmakers need to create an honest and personal film. The past few years have shown various examples of studios acting as the real director of a movie, from the growing Star Wars franchise to various Marvel and DC comic projects. Filmmakers are being forced out of dream films, just because the ideas they want to put into these franchises are not taken well by the head honchos who own them. This article will examine whether Hollywood studios are damaging the integrity of directors or whether not giving them full creative control can have a negative impact.

“I think the most diplomatic answer is I wanted to make a Marvel movie, but I don’t think they wanted to make an Edgar Wright movie.”

Edgar Wright

A prominent case study to look at is 2015’s Ant-Man, a film which Edgar Wright was in the pipeline to direct since the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008. Wright and co-writer Joe Cornish left the project in 2014 due to ‘creative differences’ with Marvel. Wright had this to say on the matter: “I think the most diplomatic answer is I wanted to make a Marvel movie, but I don’t think they wanted to make an Edgar Wright movie.”. Edgar Wright’s movie-making staples include quirky editing and witty comedy that has been widely received by fans everywhere. Many fans would have loved to see Wright’s take on the source material, but as Wright later said: “Suddenly becoming a director for hire on it, you’re sort of less emotionally invested, and you start to wonder why you’re there, really”. It is not all bad, however, as Wright went on to the make the widely successful passion project he had full creative control over, Baby Driver.

Photo by @seemurray

The phrase ‘director for hire’ is an important one, as it feels as though studios are employing big-name directors just to do the job of putting together the film on their behalf but having a clear voice in how they want the production to go, tainting the integrity of the filmmaker. Though, it appears Marvel has become quite relaxed with their creative control since the Ant-Man disagreements. They have become a lot more lenient with indie directors such as Jon Watts and Taika Waititi, whom directed the 2017 hits, Spiderman Homecoming and Thor Ragnarok. Both titles were well received by critics and audiences, with their visions and auteur aspects being translated to the screen extremely well.

“which small-time director wouldn't want to make a King Kong film for a lot of money? Though, perhaps at the cost of their artistic integrity.”

However, the hiring of indie directors for big budget films has become a lot more frequent in recent years. Kong: Skull Island director Jordan Vogt-Roberts is an illustration of a filmmaker who has been hired to execute a project but has not been allowed the freedom to implement creative flare. Studios see indie directors as people who want to get their names out in the open and of course, need a helping hand to do so. Therefore, studio giants hire indie directors yet take away their creative control to ensure the project goes in the way they desire. Perhaps, such actions are favorable due to marketing purposes. Regardless which small-time director wouldn’t want to make a King Kong film for a lot of money? Though, perhaps at the cost of their artistic integrity.

One of the most significant examples of a director forced to stray from a dream project is the new Star Wars anthology film, Solo: A Star Wars Story. This film was to be directed by Chris Miller and Phil Lord, the minds behind the successful 21 Jump Street movies and The Lego Movie. Unfortunately, in June 2017, halfway through the project the pair were let go due to ‘creative differences’ with Disney and Lucasfilm. Reportedly, the duo believed they were hired to make a comedy film, and the studio did not like their way of shooting the film and the improvisation with the actors, which was taking the written story off course. Now, this could be either a good thing or a bad thing. The possibility of what could be a great script altered by the directors could damage the content of the film and the talent of the writers Lawrence Kasdan and Jon Kasdan. Though after the hiring of Ron Howard to take over the project, fans have become outraged that Miller and Lord were let go from a project anyone would love to make. A decision that could have made the outcome of the film in hindsight more engaging. A few months later, Lucasfilm fired indie director Colin Trevorrow from directing duties on Star Wars Episode IX. A move which again, many fans were upset over.

Sticking with Star Wars, taking away creative control from a director could be a good thing. The recent instalment of the franchise, Star Wars: The Last Jedi from director Rian Johnson, received quite the backlash from fans and critics. Johnson was given full control over the film, including writing the screenplay which would take over from the story that predecessor JJ Abrams put together for the new Star Wars trilogy. Fans protested the film due to its inconsistent writing and characterisation, including the return of fan favourite Luke Skywalker. In the months following its release, it has become a very divisive film with many believing that the studio should have stepped in to guide Johnson along with the creative aspects to align closer with the expectations of dedicated fans. 

Photo by @martinjphoto

So perhaps, in that case, it depends who the studio is, and who the filmmaker is. Not everyone gets along. It should be noted that these examples are all big-budget franchise films and that many of them follow into other films and stories, so they must be kept consistent, and so the right filmmaker must be picked to make sure that job is done right. Films such as Get Out and Ladybird which received a positive response and high praise have done exceptionally well due to the creative control of their directors and writers, Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig respectively. Perhaps it is a mixed bag, and it depends what is at stake. As an aspiring filmmaker, I can’t wait to create a project that I have written and directed without the supervision of a studio and for audiences to engage with my artistic taste and personal flair. At the same time, I would love to direct a big budget Hollywood Fantastic Four movie. The dangers of studio interference will always be there, but maybe one day filmmakers will get the right amount of freedom and help from these companies to create a product that everyone is happy with, those involved in the production and of course audiences alike.