A new film law

There should be a new law in any film-making industry that you can’t replace someone just because the person who you want is available. Getting fired for one or more self-inflicted reasons is one thing, but getting replaced because someone else is more desirable means that the former employee is perceived as being not as good. The most famous (and infamous) example in the West is Eric Stoltz being replaced by Mike Fox for Back to the Future. Robert Z’s excuse for not immediately firing Eric was that he was in denial before trying to salvage him in a way which made it clear that he was unsalvageable. This excuse doesn’t fly because the power dynamic between directors and producers had changed due to Heaven’s Gate bankrupting United Artists.

Spielberg was absent, so Kathleen Kennedy alongside Frank Marshall (the other executive producers) could’ve overruled Rob by conspiring with Bob Gale (the main producer) and Neil Canton (the co-producer). Kennedy and Spielberg had bigger producer roles on E.T. Even Marshall had a bigger productive role on E.T. as production supervisor. Lesser responsibilities means less blame to go around. The excuse that they were spending money to save BTTF from being cancelled doesn’t stick because studio heads tend to literally keep tabs by conversing with the line producer.

The way that it works in film-making is that the studio executives want to see the rushes after the first day or even week to make sure that things are going well. This certainly happens when the studio head experiences differences of opinion with the director and producers. If remotely true (some kernels of truth exist in lies), Spielberg’s strategy to exorbitantly inflate the budget would’ve prevented BTTF from going straight to video. This fate would not have befallen had C. Thomas Howell played Marty, because he was already prominently featured in magazines such as Tiger Beat. You have to question who was literally calling the shots when making BTTF with Eric.

As for the most famous example in the East, Yuen Woo-Ping was Stephen Chow’s first choice as fight choreographer for Kung Fu Hustle. Sammo Hung was fired when Yuen became available after Kill Bill. I could say that the official story is bogus, but there was never an official statement. There were conflicting reports which were presented as unfounded rumours to avoid polemics (à la Jean-Claude Van Damme being fired from Predator). There were too many coincidences for each claim to be a fact. One excuse is better than several.

Supposedly, Sammo quit because of tough outdoor conditions, illness, having an interest in another project and arguments with the crew. Talk about putting all of your eggs in one basket. He has worked on movies which were just as much and more tumultuous. He has never quit when being ill. He only agreed to work on Around the World in 80 Days after he was fired. It’s never been specified who he was quarreling with and why.

Nonetheless, Sammo still had a good film career before and after getting fired. The same can’t be said for most film specialists who are fired. The most unfortunate example of someone who didn’t have much of an acting career was Kelly Emberg. Rod Stewart’s autobiography mentioned that she progressed from the rehearsal process to filming before being ditched for Kelly LeBrock because the latter had changed her mind about wanting to star in Weird Science. It’s the best example of someone who wants something because somebody else has it. Emberg was LeBrock’s rival when it came to Rod’s love life. What a waste of money and time for 3 weeks of filming that has yet to be viewed.

Speaking of money, Natasha Little was paid her full price (300,000 pounds) when she was unfairly dropped from Enigma because Mick Jagger (the main producer) found out that Kate Winslet could do one more film before becoming fully pregnant. Being paid her full price meant that there was no reason to sue the producers. It had to have been hurtful knowing that her husband, Bo Poraj, was still acting in the film. One has to wonder what was shared in the way of anecdotes. Hopefully, Bo could blog about it or Natasha could write a memoir. It would be such a shame for an unlikely happenstance in film-making to go unreported. It’s worth learning about.

In the August 28, 1983 issue of The Victoria Advocate, it was reported that Paul Reiser and Kelly McGillis were fired as the stars of Bachelor Party because 20th Century Fox were only going to be involved with the independent production if bigger names were cast in the lead roles. In the 21st century, the official story was retconned in light of how Tom Hanks became such a huge success story. The official story is that the first week of filming showed a lack of chemistry between Paul and Kelly, despite it following a week of rehearsals where the director was very happy with his cast.

It’s interesting to note that there have been other Sci-Fi films besides Back to the Future where someone was replaced for unstated commercial intentions. Sean Patrick Flanery was replaced by Matt LeBlanc for Lost in Space. The recent explanation was that Sean looked like he could be William Hurt’s son. The original claim was that the producers wanted someone physically bigger to stand up to William (despite Sean being taller than Matt). Like Mike, Matt had to oscillate between working on Friends and Lost in Space.

Samantha Morton, the co-star of a Tom Cruise Sci-Fi film titled Minority Report, was replaced by Scarlett Johansson for Her. Spike Jonze claimed that Samantha’s voice was too motherly. You would think that he would’ve already known this, especially after watching the aforementioned Philip K. Dick adaptation that was directed by Spielberg (of all people). Also, you would think that he would’ve told her to stop speaking in a maternal voice. Samantha was a stopgap because Scarlett was too busy working on Don Jon. Ron Eldard was unreasonably replaced by Kiefer Sutherland for Phone Booth.

The Stoltz/Fox situation was the opposite to how Jack Nicholson secured the lead role in The Border. Robert Blake was an Emmy-winning actor because of Baretta, which had 4 seasons. Still, he wasn’t able to guarantee budget-raising for The Border. Supposedly, he dropped out because of impatience. The opposite had happened to David Carradine. Kung Fu had 3 seasons, yet he didn’t win an Emmy and was still able to carry Circle of Iron. The fact that Robert was a Golden Globe winner debunks that having one secures the finances.

Oddly enough, Stoltz’s G.G. nomination for his supporting performance in Mask was enough to justify casting him as the star of Some Kind of Wonderful. Woody Allen cast Bob Balaban in Deconstructing Harry after firing him from Shadows and Fog in favour of Donald Pleasance. This is somewhat reminiscent of Crispin Glover agreeing to work with Zemeckis for Beowulf after the 1990 lawsuit regarding Back to the Future Part II. I feel sorry for Alessandra Torresani being replaced by Scout Taylor-Compton for The Runaways. This was because Scout was in Halloween II (i.e. Rob Zombie’s 2009 film).

The most unforgivable of firings has to be Melissa Joan Hart being expunged from Scary Movie. After a costume fitting, she was replaced by Carmen Electra (the excuse was that they already had a wacky woman). This anecdote was so painful that Melissa didn’t bother to include it in her memoir (Melissa Explains it All). Adding to the heartache, she acted with Carmen in Rent Control (which she also didn’t mention in her memoir). Director Chen Kaige fired Jean Wang after several weeks of filming Temptress Moon because Gong Li was available.

Lisa Eichhorn found herself being replaced by Barbra Streisand in All Night Long (1981) with a reason and an excuse which were similar to Eric’s firing. 4 weeks of reels that have literally been hung out to dry. No stills nor candid photos. It didn’t help that the director was married to Streisand’s agent. This casting change was endorsed by the same Universal boss (Sidney Sheinberg) who initially was hesitant about Eric being replaced by Fox. The Streisand shoot added way more than the 3 million that was afforded to the Fox do-over.

The budget (which no-one could recoup with herself being entitled to 15% of the grosses) was inflated by her asking price of 4 million, while the reviews were worse than what would’ve happened had things stayed put (the casting change was vilified). No-one banked on the possibility that audiences would care about the film upgrading Streisand as the highest-paid actress. The immoral agent got her comeuppance when Streisand kept her at arm’s distance by replacing her.

While the aim of Hollywood’s game is to work with big stars, sometimes a bigger star can be fired because the studio wants to keep as much money as possible. Such was the case with Raquel Welch being ousted from Cannery Row. MGM claimed that she spent too much time getting ready. Thanks to Burt Reynolds testifying on her behalf, MGM had to pay more money in a lawsuit than they would have if they weren’t stingy.

The two creators of Tank Girl were responsible for the casting of Emily Lloyd as the titular titan. She was in a film, Wish You Were Here, that was filmed in their hometown of Worthing, West Sussex in England. They figured that she would be game for it. What they didn’t sign up for was Lori Petty being the first choice as far as the director was concerned. She was more bankable because of Point Break and A League of Their Own (starring Tom Hanks alongside Geena Davis with Madonna). The anti-bald excuse doesn’t work given the hair, helmets and hats which Lori wore.

Even in the frantic-paced world of TV, this happens more than in the film world. Look no further than Full House as the top example. The producers wanted Bob Saget (a fellow Jew). He was unavailable. John Posey was cast in the pilot. Bob became available. John was replaced, so his version of the pilot was unaired. The closest that he came to becoming a sitcom star was My Wildest Dreams (it had 5 episodes). Cynthia Ettinger was dismayed that she was replaced by a Superman III actress in Smallville.

Lisa Edelstein issued a statement about being nothing more than a back-up to the first choice of a main character in Sex and the City (another Warner Brothers show): “My contract was complete, but it all depended on whether Sarah Jessica Parker said yes. I was either going to do it or not. I was waiting to start playing Carrie Bradshaw when she decided to do television, so they had to let me go so that she could do it. It was very sad. I was given a payout but it was still a very big disappointment. I didn’t really watch the show. It was too painful.”

Instead of dropping out of Charmed (another Warner Bros. show), Lori Rom was dropped from it. The cover story was she left because of a personal reason relating to religion. This isn’t convincing because then you would have to wonder why she agreed to act as Phoebe in the first place. After doing some investigating on the old Web (Google Groups), I learned that Aaron Spelling (the executive producer) asked Alyssa Milano to come on board after she left Melrose Place. The pilot was refilmed on August 1997.

The director of the unaired pilot, Bruce Seth Green (of Buffy and Angel fame), told Femme Fatale (the January 1999 issue): “The jarring modification came when our producer, Les Sheldon, came onto the set and told everyone we were shutting down for a week or two. We were in the middle of our first episode. The next day, it was announced that Milano was going to be taking on Rom’s role. Sadly, I found out that I would not be involved in the reshooting of the pilot or in the directing of any of the subsequent episodes. Our first episode was able to be salvaged for the fuller version.”

Holly Fields told me: “Lori was Warner’s choice and I was Spelling’s choice. They were taking turns choosing who to cast. Warner Bros. got to choose one actor and then the next actor, Spelling got to choose. Lori did the pilot presentation and didn’t like the idea of magic. At least that’s what they told me. I found this out on Friday and was waiting to start on Monday if the name actor, Alyssa, didn’t take the part. I guess that she was in Hawaii doing an episode of Fantasy Island and had to read the script, so I waited until she did. She loved it and said yes. I’m thankful that the creator was awesome enough to let me play a witch on the show.”

The world would never come to know about Lou Thornton even though she was cast as Samantha Jones in Sex and the City. Kim Cattrall accepted the offer and the rest is history. In a 2012 documentary titled I Am Bruce Lee, the topic came up about the titular subject being fleeced of the chance to star in a TV series (The Warrior) that he envisioned which eventually became a starring vehicle for a Caucasian. Ironically, the title was changed to be more Oriental. In the segment, Mickey Rourke offered his blunt opinion: “The better guy doesn’t always get the job in the movie business, you know. That’s because there’s a lot of politics involved.”

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