After Rupert Wyatt officially bowed out of directing Gambit (Chambit to the Channing Tatum fans) earlier this month, THR’s Kim Masters noticed a pattern. It turns out that Wyatt has done this multiple times now, walking away from projects at almost every major Hollywood studio – a untitled biopic at WB, The Equalizer at Sony, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Gambit at Fox. The only films he’s seen to completion have been Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which Fox gave to him after he made the tiny indie The Escapist, and Paramount’s Mark Wahlberg-starring remake of The Gambler.
What gives? Is the man who went straight from an indie to Rise of the Planet of the Apes impossible to work with? Incompetent? A male diva? Does nothing hold his attention for longer than a month or two?
What Kim found out is that Wyatt is deathly afraid of making a bad movie. Plus, although he obviously pulled it off with Rise of the Planet of the Apes he’s not so great with working in the studio system and complying with film-making-by-committee. A studio executive who has worked with Wyatt told THR, “I think Rupert’s a very principled guy. He wants to make the best version of something, and he’s so desperately afraid of making something not good that it’s easier to walk away than be pushed by committee.”
He walked away from Gambit even though Fox had a hard release date (October 7, 2016). He had already scouted locations and represented the movie at this year’s Comic-Con. Losing a director during pre-production is not entirely uncommon (it’s almost weird when it doesn’t happen to an X-Men movie), but it always puts the project on shaky ground and introduces unwelcome questions. Is Gambit in trouble at this point? Did Wyatt smell the stink off the script the same way Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation‘s Rebecca Ferguson might have when she chose to make The Girl on the Train instead of playing Gambit’s wife/ex-wife? Maybe. But maybe Wyat’s heart wasn’t 100% into it, and rather than push forward he walked away to do something else.
If so, good for you, Rupert Wyatt. As his agent told THR, “The studios, with these big movies, have very specific visions of what they want. They don’t necessarily want an auteur who’s going to try to reinvent the franchise. Of course the studios would love it if a director did what they want, when they want, but it doesn’t always work out […] Many have ended up in director’s jail when they didn’t walk away, and perhaps they should have.”
From the outside looking in, it seems clear that if you want to make a big budget movie these days most of the studios are going to have very strong opinions about what ends up screen (understandably so). You can’t fight that. You can’t change the system. You can simply work within that. Sometimes the higher-ups will remember that they hired someone like James Gunn to make a James Gunn movie and we’ll end up with Guardians of the Galaxy. The same goes for George Miller at Warner Bros. with this summer’s Mad Max: Fury Road. Other times we get Fantastic Four.
You get the sense that one of the byproducts of the new status quo of studios hiring no-name, inexperienced directors to make big budget movies is that those directors feel too grateful for the opportunity to ever dream of walking away, likely viewing such an act as career suicide. However, Josh Trank making Fantastic Four was probably more career suicide than Rupert Wyatt not making Gambit.
Of course, if Wyatt keeps doing this then it won’t be a problem for him anymore because studios will stop working with him for fear that he’ll simply back out at an inopportune time. However, he is currently said to be developing an original film called Goliath for Paramount. Good for him. Fox is still searching for a director who can get Gambit done in time for October 7, 2016. Let’s hope they find someone soon, and the end result is a good movie.
Meanwhile, we’ll busy ourselves photoshopping more pictures to imagine what Channing Tatum will look like as Gambit while watching episodes of the old animated series to remember what Gambit’s Cajun-accent used to sound like.