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Director Lynne Ramsay on Struggles for Creative Control: 'The Politics I Hate, the Filmmaking I Love'

03.24.13 @ 8:51PM Tags : , , ,

With news surfacing a few days ago about Lynne Ramsay’s mysterious ‘no-show’ on the set of her first gig as a director-for-hire Jane Got A Gun, many media outlets are reporting it as ‘irresponsible’ behavior. Speculation abounds. The ‘feminist western’ with Natalie Portman did not shoot as planned last Monday, leaving a crew of 150 wondering why they didn’t have a director and resulting in sending 175 extras home on the first day. Lynne had reportedly been having a feud with producer Scott Steindorff over the privilege of the all-important final cut. In the wake of this news that could either be interpreted as a middle finger to Hollywood or an artist’s attempt to grasp the ideal, it’s interesting to revisit this recently-published 2011 interview from DP/30, below:

Jane Got A Gun would have been Ramsay’s first effort in which she had no hand in writing. Interestingly, the script, written by Brian Duffield, came from the 2011 Black List, an industry list of the best unproduced screenplays. Ramsay has made no public statement, but is reported to not have received a final shooting script, budget, or schedule mere days before the first day was to start, and was under a caveat for final cut, stating that she could lose final cut privileges if the film went over budget or over schedule.

From the Guardian:

Hollywood’s a lonely place, she’d been in control all the way, but the last week of pre-production became a series of calamities for a film-maker as precise and visionary as Lynne. It’s a shame to think Hollywood can’t accommodate a talent like hers, but maybe she was naive to think it wouldn’t be a rough ride.

Also worth noting is that Jane Got A Gun is defined as an ‘independent film,’ but it always leads me to consider the ever-changing definition of independent. The scrutiny that comes with an Oscar-winning actor and a 15 million dollar budget being produced in Los Angeles can create an atmosphere that feels a little like the old west itself — only instead of a hail of gunfire, it’s a media feeding frenzy. Call me selfish, but Lynne Ramsay is one of my favorite living directors and I just hope this doesn’t adversely affect her highly anticipated Sci-fi Moby Dick.

Easier to blame a rising female director than take a look at the red-tape of big-budget films? Perhaps. Ramsay also left the hot seat for an adaptation of The Lovely Bones in 2004 due to conflicts within the producer-director relationship. We’ve seen how things can go when producers and directors bump heads, from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil to Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret, it seems to be an inevitable part of the business. Many will praise Ramsay for holding on to her artistic integrity, while others will demonize her for abandoning a job when work is scarce. As she says in the above interview: “The women are not soft in Glasgow.”

Is this a case of an irresponsible director, or a broken system? What would you do in this situation? Would you abandoned a production if the project started going in a direction you were uncomfortable with?

Link: DP/30: We Need to Talk About Kevin, co-writer/director Lynne Ramsay, co-writer Rory Kinnear — YouTube


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  • It is definitely a tough call as a Director, even with limited experience there have been numerous situations where a client/producer is requesting a direction that, in personal belief, detracts or lessens the impact of a creative piece. However, i think it comes down to a practical decision, in which the cast and crew you work with, and the hard work that is put in will pay its own dividends, things will never be perfect after all. As a Director, I am not sure you can ever be totally happy, so sacrifices have to be accepted.

    • Lance Bachelder on 03.25.13 @ 3:45AM

      Agreed – there’s a very short list of Director’s who have final cut on their films and that’s because they EARNED it – by making films that made huge profits more than one time. That’s not to say she wouldn’t get final cut anyway – if her cut tests well with audiences no ones going to radically change it and at $15 million she’s likely not going to be dealing with a small army of exec’s who ant to give their 2 cents. Grow up and get the film done.

      • If you’ve seen her films then YOU KNOW she already earned it!
        What’s the point in calling her to shoot a film then mess it up the way you want it.. Just hire a newbie frresh from film school pool and get it done…

  • Darren Orange on 03.24.13 @ 10:10PM

    I really don’t care there is no good excuse unless it’s medical or family…to just not show up on the first day like this is such a strong disregard for all the people involved in the project. It’s gross negligence and extremely selfish. There are degrees of what I want but at the end of the day if you are for higher you had better execute or get off the pot and certainly make that choice strongly before the first day. I wonder what real hard working directors would say to this.

    • She told everyone she would do something that she didn’t do, and everyone counted on her to do it. That, at the very least, is bad manners.

    • I’m pretty sure we’re not getting the whole story here. I’ve read a blog & tweets from one of the crew members and it seems that everyone on the crew knew she wasn’t going to be there to start the shoot. Given the news that she wasn’t given a shooting script, locked schedule or budget, I can’t blame her. The producer is playing a game here, using the media to push their side (it’s no secret that they’ve been in direct contact with Deadline, practically feeding them the story) and I think Ramsay is just laying low waiting for things to cool down instead of getting into a war of words via the media. She’ll survive, but I think high-quality directors will think twice before working with Steindorff.

    • That’s so simplistic. And it’s probably the other way round. Knowing that she wouldn’t show up, the producer started production to make her look bad.

      • Darren Orange on 03.25.13 @ 11:18PM

        I’m strongly confused, explain to me the finical benefit in starting the production is you know the director is not going to show up? Producers think dollar bills but how do I look. At the end of the day Money talks and who every is funding this show will get to the bottom of the detail…a producer would not just start it to make the director look bad.

  • Ouch, not good for her reputation in Hollywood if this turns out to be the case, and especially if this is the second time she’s abandoned a project. On the other hand, after reading the linked story at the Hollywood Reporter, this doesn’t look good on the producer(s) either. Either way, it sucks for the cast and crew.

    • She stays true to herself rather than giving in to ‘Hollywood’. In my opinion that’s not even bad for her career.

  • As far as I can see the director was just hired days before shooting was scheduled to start and had no access to anything (script/budget/etc.)

    But the interesting this was that the director was apparently vying for “final cut” even though she had no real connection to movie, and probably never even read the script. To be honest, if that was the case, she should have counted her blessings and just directed the damn film, got her check, and then worked on something she had her heart in. It’s not like this film is going to be remembered in three years anyway.

    And I’m sorry, it’s NO FREAKIN’ COMPARISION to Terry Gilliam and what he went through on “Brazil.”

    Instead it sounds like she just balked and walked.

    In fairness, it doesn’t seem that she personally stiffed everyone working on the set that first day of shooting, as it seems she quit day(s) beforehand. But I think it’s an alarm bell that Michael Fassbender quit prior to the first day shooting. Sounds like the producer either is a (bleephole) or simply doesn’t have his act together.

    So, should the director have sucked it up and taken the payday for a walk on gig? Yes.

    Should the media paint the story as the director “walked off the set”? No. Because she never was ON the set.

    • Maybe you didn’t read the headline where she says ‘Filmmaking I love’. If you wouldn’t give a damn about the movie you’re about to direct, fine, but that obviously doesn’t apply to everyone yet – thank god.

      • All I’m saying is that line of “Oh, I’m such an auteur, I can only do projects I love” only works if you can pay the rent and your student loans.

        If you’re walking into a movie that’s three days out from the first day of shooting, and one of the leads just quit, and you don’t even have a script, and you’re uncomfortable with the situation, don’t wait three days and THEN quit and claim it was because you wanted “final cut” of a movie you were really are doing a “drive by” directing job anyway.

        I’m all for people doing their OWN movies, but heck, a paycheck is a paycheck. How many of the VERY BEST directors of all time did studio movies to pay their dues so they could then do the movies they LOVED?

        Sorry, if it were me I would have just said, “Yeah, this is going to be a HUGE headache and a pain in the ass, but afterwards I’ll buy a hot tub full of Champagne and a house.” Directing is like any other job. It’s just that directors have been propelled to the level of mystical beings. Some jobs suck; others are great.

  • Talk abute a shite work ethic.

  • vinceGortho on 03.25.13 @ 3:34AM

    Why must attention always be directed to the gender of a director when its a female?

  • “…what if she actually quit 48 hours before production was supposed to start on Monday, and all because she still hadn’t gotten an approved schedule, script or budget from her producers? Some details dug up at The Hollywood Reporter suggest just that, saying that Ramsay’s departure last Saturday was kept secret even from star Natalie Portman as they scrambled to find a replacement…”_Katey Rich – Cinemablend

  • ‘a film-maker as precise and visionary as Lynne’??????

    Kubrick comes to mind, as for Ramsay..she’s clearly out of hers.

    You can scream artistic integrity all you want, in Europe it’s fine, In the US, think again. It’s a business, and the business of the film comes first.

    Not turning up, well unless you have stopped breathing, don’t bother coming back!

  • Insurance is the real issue here. Most big productions won’t get off the ground today without a completion bond to insure the production. The reason you don’t see Lindsay Lohan in movies anymore is not because producers would never hire her – it is because putting her on a movie makes it uninsurable. Lynne Ramsay is not Lindsay Lohan – but by not showing up on the first day of a multi-million dollar production she may be considered as big of a risk. Regardless if she had a good reason or not, she will have to work her ass off to get out of movie jail.

  • No mention of the pay or play deal… Hmmm…

    You can cut it either way; poor professionalism or artistic integrity. But she signed on the dotted line to direct the piece and bailed.

    So, if said accounts are correct, she left the project day of because she didn’t get final cut?… Ha! She’s got James Cameron demands without James Cameron product. I’m looking forward to hearing both sides of the story.

    • What I’ve heard is she was promised final cut if the film stayed under budget…and then they didn’t give her a budget. Sounds to me like the producers are the ones in violation of the contract, so it’s entirely fair for her to walk.

      • Where have you heard this? Any sources?

        It’s absurd to think there is no definitive budget given to a production before their first day of principal photography. I’m not saying it couldn’t occur but that’s just not how things typically work. A likely scenario of being screwed out of final cut (if contingent on staying within budget) would be that the producers deliberately go over budget and void that stipulation in the contract. I imagine it could happen.

        In the off chance that the producers didn’t finalize a solid budget before first day is there a clause in the contract stating they (producers) MUST come up with said number? See what I mean? If they didn’t hand over a number and Ramsay walks who is to fault? Being a douche (which the producers MAY be guilty of) doesn’t give anyone right to break a contract if they don’t agree with it. That’s the awesome/shitty thing about a contract – you simply can’t ‘walk away’ from it if you find something that you disagree with.

        Still awaiting an official response from Ramsay…

  • “There has always been a thing in the picture business—I don’t know whether you have run into it or not—but the people who put up the money reserve the right to cut the picture. Now, they can get into an awful jam. They wanted to cut hell out of Giant [1956] and George Stevens wouldn’t let them. He was right. Then he made a picture called The Diary of Anne Frank [1959] and they wanted to cut it; he wouldn’t let them, and he was wrong. So what’re you going to do? They stand to lose a great deal.”

    - Howard Hawks

  • Final Cut is not a demand only huge box office directors have the right to negotiate for, if you have any kind of track record this option should always be on the table. What I don’t understand though, is how was her contract signed without it as that is in the directors deal memo it is not something you negotiate for after the fact. It just seems like we don’t even know half the story at this point, all we have is a sensational headline to judge.

  • What I don’t understand is how this issue wasn’t clearly settled one way or the other beforehand. Unclear exactly what the problem is/who initiated it regarding the final cut, but if it seems if as a director you insist on it, you get it in writing when you sign the contract for the film, and if anyone requests something different, you just say “no.”

    I’m sure it’s more complicated than that–what am I missing?

  • I find the interview an excellent source of inspiration for any screenwriter in need of covering a story including some classic UK stereotypes…

  • Christian Anderson on 03.25.13 @ 2:27PM

    Let Lynne Ramsay do what she wants. Has she not proven herself already?!

    • From a for-hire director standpoint, quite honestly, no, since this was her first for hire gig.

    • I wasn’t sure if you were kidding.

      But I’d say, no. Zemeckis, Kubrick, Fincher, Coppola, Jackson, Nolan, Cameron, Scorsese, Coen Bros, Ridley Scott, Tarantino, Tim Burton, Soderbergh, Terry Malick, Woody Allen… Do you see Ramsey in the same league as these people? If you make the types of films she does the only way to retain final cut is to stay indie.

  • Setting the discussion back 20 years.

  • Ahh, no worries. Never know so I thought I’d ask. Now I’m curious to this sandwich line. Haha

  • The caveat said she’d lose final cut if it went over budget or came in behind schedule. Days before shooting is meant to begin and there’s no locked script or schedule? That’s a recipe for the thing to go over budget and get behind, from day one. Admiral Ackbar could see that one coming from a few parsecs away. It’s a trap. The thing was doomed before it began.

  • Daniel Mimura on 04.2.13 @ 8:29PM

    It’s interesting to me how many people are saying that it’s “unprofessional” to walk off set…sometimes that’s the most professional thing to do.

    We don’t know the whole story and it’s pretty lame to make assumptions straight up. If she isn’t being treated right, that’s a full on integrity move…

    …now if you don’t show up b/c you’re drunk or otherwise inebriated, that’s unprofessional…

    …but we don’t know, do we?