Must Listen: Fanboys And The Perils Of Studio Intervention In Filmmaking

During the past year that we've been doing the /Film podcast, we've had on a lot of really interesting filmmakers, actors, and film journalists talk about their reflections and experiences in the entertainment industry. However, this past week's episode of the /Filmcast: After Dark was something else, an insightful, profound, and heartbreaking look into what happens when a studio severely interferes with a director's vision for a film.

In our review of District 9, director Kyle Newman spoke admiringly about the amazing type of film that can result when a powerful producer like Peter Jackson protects the vision of a young director like Neill Blomkamp. On this week's episode of the /Filmcast: After Dark, Newman spoke at length about the making of Fanboys, where he very much had the opposite experience. For those of you who don't know, Fanboys was a much-buzzed about film aimed squarely at a built-in geek audience that ended up being butchered at the hands of the Weinstein Company (recently profiled in the NYTimes in a not-so-positive light). The film chronicled the adventures of a group of friends who try to break into the Skywalker Ranch and steal an early copy of Star Wars: Episode 1 so their friend, who has cancer, can see it before he dies.

Those you who have already heard the episode know that Kyle's stories about the film were as moving as they were horrifying. We have some highlights from the discussion after the jump, but if you have time, I'd strongly suggest you listen to the whole episode by downloading it here or by playing it below in your browser:

About Fanboys, Newman recalled:

They were cool through production. Harvey, it was his thing, and he's not known for comedy. I mean, if you really go down the list of what Harvey's actually made in terms of comedy, he's just been involved in Kevin Smith movies, and those are movies he's kind of let Kevin do what he wants to do, more or less. So this was almost new territory for him. This was the first acquisition that their new company had made with a new staff, and it was just a different game with a different cap on his head...

We were going to do some reshoots to the beginning, because I was never happy with the beginning. It was very exposition-heavy. And, you know, idle time...They just started saying, "Well, you know what? Borat came out this weekend. Why don't we try to do naked wrestling?" or "Superbad! Why can't we work Michael Cera into the movie?" or a Harry Potter film was out, "Can we put a Harry Potter spoof in it?" This is not a spoof movie! Every time there was a new was thrust upon us. And you'd spend three months trying to talk them down off this ledge, until there was a new hot thing and they threw that at you. And they really wanted to make the movie a spoof movie...

What they were trying to do was take my movie, our movie, and give it the biggest possible release, and find the biggest possible audience they could. They didn't understand how to do that properly in my opinion, but it was in their realm to do that because they owned it.

Subsequently, another director was brought in to work on the film, and multiple version of the film were created and tested, much to Newman's chagrin."I don't know how you could take something that was working on an emotional level, and ruin it," said Newman. "That really didn't work, when they recut the movie and stuff. The numbers they got, they weren't getting that kind of bounce they were hoping for..." Famously, one version of the film bafflingly removed the cancer subplot, which was a major motivation for all the characters to take their road trip. Simultaneously, negative buzz about the film's creative process began to build online, with "Stop Darth Weinstein" websites and forums springing up. According to Newman, Weinstein knew that in order to counteract this ill-will, he would need Newman's imprimatur.

They gave us their [version of the] movie, with a lot of their bad jokes. All the cancer was taken out of it. All the heart of the movie, the point of the movie, the nuance of the movie was all stripped from it. They gave me 36 hours to recut the entire film. It was like a game. They were like "Fine, you can have it back. Sign this paper that says you endorse it at the end of 36 hours." So I said, "Alright. Bring it on fuckers."

I knew exactly what I wanted to do with this movie. In 36 hours, I got the main thrust of the plot back in, I got the cancer back in...Again, when you have 36 hours to recut an entire film, you can just do the broad strokes. You can't go in there...I feel like every single scene is still wrong. They're abrupt. The jokes, it doesn't punch. Things are too quick.

The marketing for the film was equally frustrating:

They showed me posters...and it'd be just like girls in bikinis lying at their feet and then they're eating pizza. One guy has a video camera. It had nothing to do with our movie. There was stuff with ninjas, cause kids like ninjas apparently. I went into their office, they showed me 200 posters of just like gibberish that had nothing to do with our films that was just alternate titles like "The Greatest Adventure" and "One Last Journey" and "Trippin.'" And I was like "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!"

Nonetheless, Newman found the end result of Fanboys something he could still take some pride in, and was still quite sanguine about his career: "This version is something we're all proud of, but it isn't the one I cut two years prior...It was a hard hard process, but I feel like, sticking through that, I've seen it all."

If you had any interest in Fanboys, this week's episode is a must-listen, but even if you're just interested in the filmmaking process in general, Kyle offers insights that are valuable as they are fascinating. You can check out the whole episode here and you can also subscribe to the /Filmcast using the links below: