Directors and studios sharing economic pressure

Tue Jan 6, 2009 12:44am EST
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By Tom Roston

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Catherine Hardwicke had every reason to celebrate as her latest film, "Twilight," opened to nearly $70 million in November.

The haul exceeded even the most optimistic expectations, and reviewers credited Hardwicke for breathing cinematic life into novelist Stephenie Meyer's vampire romance. But when Summit Entertainment immediately began fast-tracking a sequel, "New Moon," Hardwicke was conspicuously absent.

The director had concerns about the direction of the new franchise and the amount of prep time available. Summit, by some accounts, had reservations about working with the indie-minded Hardwicke again. The studio soon announced it would hire another director, Chris Weitz, to ensure its follow-up film would be ready by November.

An isolated instance of financial dictates undercutting a director's power? Perhaps. But there is evidence this awards season that the challenging economy is forcing studios to take tougher stands when it comes to keeping directors happy.

"It's the climate that's different," says one producer, who declined to be identified. "It's not so much the conversations. Conversations about budgets have always been difficult. But in the last year, (they've) been markedly different. There's even more of a pressure on budgets."

When Danny Boyle turned in "Slumdog Millionaire" to Warner Bros., which was in the process of shuttering specialty divisions Warner Independent Pictures and Picturehouse, the studio was no longer interested in distributing the film -- even though it had invested in it. Instead, Warners allowed Fox Searchlight to take over distribution, and the film has since become an Oscar front-runner.

Director Stephen Daldry begged producer Harvey Weinstein for eight more filming days on "The Reader," so Weinstein made him agree to a Faustian bargain: In exchange for the shooting upgrade, Daldry had to consent to test an early cut of the movie. If it passed muster with the audience, the director would then be obligated to finish the film in time for a 2008 release.

Never mind that both films were specialty fare, where the director's vision is more highly valued. Business interests took precedence.   Continued...

<p>Catherine Hardwicke gestures at the premiere of the movie "Twilight" at the Mann Village and Bruin theatres in Westwood, California November 17, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>