James Gray is an incredibly talented filmmaker. Gray doesn’t have a problem taking big risks in his stories, often tackling heavy themes that involve familial conflict and death. His Shakespearean levels of storytelling are what make Gray a great filmmaker in the independent film circle. 

However, there is one film in the director’s filmography that has film fans split. Ad Astra was the filmmaker’s biggest risk to date, and while the sci-fi epic earned some great reviews, the audiences struggled to find empathy for the emotional space family drama. 

Ad Astra is one of those films that flew in and out of the theaters without much notoriety, and the film is regarded as one of the low points in the director’s career, according to Gray. The reason Gray was disappointed with the film doesn’t have to do with its box office success, but for another reason that made the director want to step away from filmmaking.  

James Gray on his struggles with 'Ad Astra''Ad Astra'Credit: 20th Century Fox

The disappointment of Ad Astra 

During his masterclass at the Lumiere Film Festival, Variety reported that James Gray talked about the “very torturous experience” the film became for him during the edit, and why he is so frustrated with the finished product. 

“The film was taken from me, ultimately. It’s not my cut of the movie, and I find it a very painful experience to have people tell me things that they hated about the movie that I had nothing to do with,” Gray said. “I was deeply upset, I had lost all my enthusiasm for making films.” 

This is a position you never want to see any filmmaker in. There is something so gutting about having all of your hard work disregarded, and it can make someone feel as if they are not good enough to make any project, regardless if it is successful or not. 

 As Gray said later on, “If I’m going to [direct] again if it’s going to be bad, it might as well be my bad.” 

The exact reasons why the film was “taken” from Gray are unknown, and we are unsure about what changes were made without his approval. Gray did reveal that he struggled with directing the genre film back in 2019, stating that he couldn't turn his weakness into his advantage since no story like Ad Astra existed in film yet. 

One thing is clear—even with the good reviews, Gray still isn’t satisfied with Ad Astra and never will be until his cut is out in the world (which probably won’t happen). 

James Gray on his struggles with 'Ad Astra''Ad Astra'Credit: 20th Century Fox

How to recover after a major disappointment

Luckily, Gray’s disappointment with Ad Astra didn’t extinguish his enthusiasm for filmmaking completely. 

While he was directing the opera The Marriage of Figaro in 2019, Gray’s next film, Armageddon Time, came to him.

“I started to think of the bedtime stories I used to tell my children, so I tried to strip away everything else and just go back to what I love about movies, and that’s why I made the film,” Gray said. 

Gray returned to his roots, and he rediscovered what it was that made him want to become a filmmaker in the first place. To return to the raw love he felt for the craft, Gray watched a ton of movies.

“I watch a movie every night, usually pre-dating 1980,” Gray said. “My children and my wife think I’m a fool, they want me to watch new TV shows—I try to get interested in that, but I really don’t give a shit.” 

For Gray, being an artist or filmmaker is finding something honest about his work and the work he can draw out of his cast and crew. Even though Gray couldn’t create something that he deemed “honest” through the editing process of Ad Astra, he was able to see a silver lining. 

As long as something honest remains, there is a reason to keep making movies. 

How do you stay inspired as a filmmaker? Let us know in the comments!

Source: Variety