This story first appeared in the Aug. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Early this year, Tony Kaye — the director who had gone to war with Edward Norton and New Line Cinema on 1998’s American History X — sent Daniel Day-Lewis a letter asking him to consider a screenplay he wanted to shoot. Kaye, 62, who hasn’t made a studio movie since X, never heard back. “I am — excuse my French — f—ed,” he tells THR. “I am in jail. I am totally in jail.”
Kaye isn’t alone. In the wake of the disastrous Fantastic Four, Josh Trank might join him. Trank, 31, helped blow up his own movie on the day it debuted, tweeting Aug. 6 that he made a “fantastic” version that “you’ll probably never see.” Now, says a rival studio production staffer, “No executive will go near him. I might take a meeting with him, just to give him advice, but I wouldn’t give him a job.”
So is Trank stuck in directors jail forever? Not necessarily. Hollywood has a long tradition of deep-freezing some of its best, refusing them work or giving them minor material. Silent-era master D.W. Griffith became nearly penniless when sound came along. Oscar winner Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter) turned into a byword for profligacy following the debacle of 1980’s Heaven’s Gate (he went on to make 1985’s Year of the Dragon and 1987’s The Sicilian). Victor Salva was incarcerated for child molestation and served 15 months of a three-year sentence before he was given the job directing Disney’s Powder (1995). But when word of his past surfaced, his career took a serious hit. Die Hard director John McTiernan has had trouble finding work since he served time for his role in the Anthony Pellicano wiretap scandal.
Other directors have been metaphorically jailed — usually for not making money but also for everything from arrogance and high-profile flops (M. Night Shyamalan) to battling a studio (Mark Romanek, who was replaced on both Wolfman and Cinderella) to being considered “difficult” (Catherine Hardwicke, who was dropped by Summit after the first Twilight).
Trank should take the following advice — though his agent, WME’s Robert Newman, might need El Chapo-like skills to free him.
1. Eat humble pie.
If David O. Russell could do it, so can Trank. Following much-publicized battles with George Clooney (Three Kings) and Lily Tomlin (I Heart Huckabees) and a host of financing problems on the unfinished Nailed, Russell bounced back thanks to the support of his friend Mark Wahlberg and a series of public mea culpas, returning to glory with 2010’s The Fighter.
2. Go back to your roots.
Gore Verbinski became persona non grata at Disney following 2013’s The Lone Ranger, which forced the studio to take a huge write-down and cost film chief Rich Ross his job. Since then, Verbinski has gone to work for New Regency on the modestly budgeted drama A Cure for Wellness, due out in September 2016. Hardwicke has opted for a similar strategy, with the Drew Barrymore starrer Miss You Already out later this year. And Marc Forster, who was blamed for many missteps on Paramount’s World War Z (2013), segued to the modest All I See Is You, now filming. Trank also could learn a lesson from Darren Aronofsky, who was a studio outcast after the big-budget failure of The Fountain (2006) but came back on the indies The Wrestler (2008) and Black Swan (2010) before being handed Paramount’s Noah (2014).
3. Write a great script.
That’s what Salva did on the 2001 horror flick Jeepers Creepers, which he also directed. “If you write a great script, you can always find actors who want to do it and a producer who’ll find the money,” argues one former executive turned producer.
4. Try television.
After a series of disappointments and two outright bombs (2010’s The Last Airbender and 2013’s After Earth), Shyamalan turned to TV and now is enjoying modest ratings success with Fox’s Wayward Pines. Ed Burns, who has complained about being stuck in jail, created Public Morals, landing Aug. 25 on TNT. Romanek has taken a similar path, directing an episode of the upcoming Martin Scorsese–Terence Winter series Vinyl for HBO, and he may yet come back to film with Warner Bros.’ The Overlook Hotel.
None of this guarantees success, as Kaye knows too well. The British filmmaker still is bedeviled by his mercurial image. “I have this crazy reputation, which I nurtured,” says Kaye. “I thought you had to be arrogant and awful. But I have learned a lot over the years about process, and how to conduct myself with collaborators within the collective of making a movie, and how to be caring about the pain of others, and not to live in a realm of desire for the self alone.” Now, he says, “I’m hoping I can turn all of my mistakes into the best third act ever.”