Is Studio Interference Ruining Cinema?

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“Is studio interference ruining cinema?” is a question that has been brewing in my mind for quite some time now. Time after time, I have heard stories and actor or director statements that go along these lines;

– “The studio wanted insert film ruining thing here. We didn’t want to, but the studio insisted…”

– “The studio didn’t want insert film making thing here. He had to fight for it every inch of the way…”

– “We knew the fans weren’t going to like insert thing fans most certainly would not like but the studio said that they would love it…”

I’m sure many of you would have heard these sorts of statements when you have looked into production videos, wiki pages and articles about your favourite (and least favourite) films. So, it is a valid question. The fans know what they want. The filmmakers (usually) know what the fans want and what they want to make. So is it fair that in order for anything to get the big funding from the multi-billion dollar studios, they have to wrestle tooth and nail with the corporate gooses that lay the golden eggs? Well, I’m not sure, so it’s something I’d like to investigate in this article.

Justice League: A Case In Point

The Justice League group photo.

With all the noise and hype around the film recently, it is only fair to start with Justice League. It is well known now how turbulent this film’s production was. Zack Snyder was creating the film that he wanted to make until the studio (in this case Warner Bros.) decided they did not like the direction that Zack Snyder was taking the film. Joss Whedon was brought on board to rewrite the script and to lighten the tone of the film. Soon after, Zack Snyder’s daughter died, which prompted him to take some time away from directing. Joss Whedon took over full control and proceeded to ruin the film. Or did he? Could he have made a better film if the studio hadn’t insisted on a film that was less than two hours long? Could he have made a better film if the studio decided to not postpone the release date, so the executives could keep their annual bonuses and protect their profits before a possible dissolving of the studio? The Avengers, which Joss Whedon directs, is a good film after all. Of course, I am ignoring accusations of his bullying and domineering during his reign as film overlord, but that’s a topic for another article.

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Zack Snyder's Justice League.

So of course, that means we will never know how good this film could have been…oh wait, we do know how good it could have been! With the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League (a director’s cut of the film that followed his original vision, aesthetics, and story), we can see that if he had been left to it, the film would have, in fact, been better. The fans main gripes with the original Justice League were fixed and became the highlights of the Snyder Cut, all because Zack Snyder was given full creative control of his own work (and a great helping of hindsight as well).

Other Times That Studios Have Ruined A Film

The Suicide Squad in action.

There are other examples of this sort of studio “oar thrust into the system” behaviour. Even within the DC extended universe itself, there is another example. Warner Bros. spent $22 million on reshoots for Suicide Squad to try and lighten the tone of the film, after the success of Deadpool and critical response to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The result was an objectively awful film, which cut most of Jared Leto’s portrayal of the Joker and gave us a completely different film to what director David Ayer wanted.

They stitched Deadpool's mouth shut?...right...

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Of course, Marvel is not immune to such interference either. X-Men Origins: Wolverine had a memorable appearance by fan favourite, Deadpool (who is played by Ryan Reynolds). Fans absolutely despised the Deadpool that they got in this film, with the laser eyes and teleportation. In an interview he gave to SiriusXM, Ryan Reynolds explained that the film was made during the middle of a huge writers’ strike. So, who made the decisions that made a beloved character into a point of outrage? The studios (Marvel Entertainment, The Donners’ Company and Seed Productions being the production companies behind the film) did. Ryan Reynolds even told one of the studio executives that fans will hate this version of the character, but he was met with “It’ll work, watch”. It didn’t work and Ryan Reynolds couldn’t re-shoot some of the Deadpool scenes because he was shooting another movie. Of course, he eventually did get to do a version of Deadpool that fans loved, but more on that later.

Times The Studios Have Not Ruined Films

Still from Dunkirk.

Studios are not always the bad guys. They have, after all, funded nearly all our favourite films. According to Quentin Tarantino in an interview he gave to ‘The Rewatchables’ podcast, where he talks about the genius of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk,  Nolan “brought Warner Bros.” along for the film, “and they backed him 100%”. What do we get when we have studio’s that trust their filmmakers to make great films? Films like Interstellar, Dunkirk and the Dark Knight trilogy. I don’t know if Quentin Tarantino was correct in his assessment of Christopher Nolan’s freedom, but he knows a darn sight more about the subject than I do, so I’ll trust him.

Hiccup riding Toothless alongside a Lightfury in How to Train Your Dragon 3.

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How to Train Your Dragon is also an example of studios making the right call. Directors of Lilo & Stitch (Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois) were brought in to create a film that would appeal to a greater audience and have a slightly more grown-up feel This took the film from being a “sweet” and “whimsical” film to what it is now. The decision was also made to change Toothless from a Common or Garden Dragon, to the awesome Night Fury, which served to make the aerial scenes with Hiccup much faster and more dynamic. In this instance, well done studio!

Times The Film Has Been Made Better, Despite Studio Interference

Deadpool lounging seductively by a fire.

One of the best examples I can find of filmmakers holding their ground vs the studio is Deadpool (the 2016 solo film). The studio was hesitant to run with the film until test footage was leaked to the internet in 2014. It was met with incredible enthusiasm from the fans, so 20th Century Fox finally green-lighted the project. However, throughout the production, they were against making the film R-rated. Despite the success of the leaked footage, they were nervous about how Deadpool would do as an R-rated film. Because of this, they slashed the budget to a measly $58 million. They wouldn’t even pay for the two writers (Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick) to be on set every day, so Ryan Reynolds had to pay them out of his own salary.

These strenuous circumstances forced the filmmakers to make some very clever decisions. Because of how much gun fights cost, they wrote scenes where Deadpool forgets his guns. They created one of the best running gags of the film from the necessity of saving money. They had to cut nine pages of the script after having their budget slashed 48 hours before the film’s green light. This resulted in them making the film more concise, focused, and better paced. And because of the constant studio shenanigans, there are many jokes in the film that poke fun at the industry and the studio, which fans found hilarious. The film’s turmoil made the end result much better, bringing in a whopping $782.6 million and thrusting the middle finger into the studio’s face.

Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino) in The Godfather.

Another instance of the filmmakers having to fight the studio is in the making of The Godfather. In an interview with Diane Keaton (who plays Kay Adams) on The Graham Norton Show, she reveals that the director, Francis Ford Coppola “had to fight for everything” when making the film. The example she gives is that the studio (Paramount Pictures and Alfran Productions) wanted to fire Al Pacino (who plays Michael Corleone) from the film because they didn’t think he was right for the character. Up until this point, they had only filmed his early scenes where he was more “young” and “insecure”. So, Coppola took the decision to film the famous scene in the restaurant where Michael Corleone kills two men. It was the turning point for his character and for the film, as the studio decided to keep Al Pacino on. Although I’m not a massive fan of The Godfather in general, there is no denying that Al Pacino’s performance was one of the highlights of the film.

Final Thoughts

One last point that I would like you to mull over is an example of a filmmaker making films with very strong creative control and studio support, compared to that same filmmaker having a large amount of studio interference in the same franchise. Can you guess which film franchise? That’s right, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

Fellowship sqwad pic.

With the Lord of the Rings, director Peter Jackson was under one studio, New Line Studios. He was given three and a half years of pre-production, a year of post-production for each film and financial support to develop ground-breaking technology for the trilogy. With The Hobbit, after the original director Guillermo del Toro left, Peter Jackson was forced once more into the Middle-earth breach. He was under the control of three studios, New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and WingNut Films (Jackson is one of the founders of Wingnut Films). That’s not even including Warner Bros., the now parent company of New Line Cinema. Jackson was given no time for pre-production. Already rushed throughout filming and scrambling for the finish line, the studios informed him they wanted three films instead of the original planned two. They told him this mere months before the release of the first film. This resulted in a rushed re-hashing of the films and required many re-shoots. In these re-shoots, the awful love triangle (that included Tauriel, Kili and Legolas) was shoehorned in. Who wanted this change? That’s right, the studios did.

Bilbo trying to figure out if he is filming film 1, 2 or 3.

From a critical, financial and fan point of view, The Hobbit was a pale shadow of The Lord of the Rings films. One had a huge dollop of studio interference and the other had a tasteful, modest scoop. The evidence against studio interference is encapsulated within this film series. Filmmakers are artists, they need to be able to paint the picture they want. The art collectors will buy the artworks they like because the subject matter and the artist’s style interests them. They do not buy because the art gallery’s owner slaps paint over the canvas because they think it will look better. Perhaps you may disagree with me and think that studios interfering in an artist’s vision is for the good. But I think the recurring problems with studio interference paint a very clear picture to me. 

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