Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Jack Sholder on Supernova

An excerpt from an interview conducted by Dan Epstein on

Dan Epstein: I just saw that you were one of the directors on Supernova.

Jack Sholder: Oh, yeah. That's a whole other story.

DE: Can I hear a little bit about that story? Are you interested in talking about it?

JS: Sure.

DE: Because I'm a big Walter Hill fan.

JS: Well, he'll probably have a different version than I have. I'll give you the truth as I know it, because I have very little ego attached to this thing. Basically there was another guy, Geoffrey Wright, Australian director, and he was going to direct a movie. With less than two months to go, him and the studio sort of had irreconcilable differences, and they parted ways. So the question with the studio was, either make the movie or drop the movie and, at this point, the sets were built, the costumes were made. They had so much into it that they decided to go ahead. They ended up hiring Walter. Actually, they talked to me about directing it and, at one point, I was a candidate to direct the movie. Walter came on the scene and he had a relationship with Franc Mancuso who was then the head of MGM/UA and he had done some big things, so they figured OK, well, he could step in. One day, I got a call. They asked if I could come in and meet with them; that they had a problem. He had finished the movie and he had been editing it for about four or five months and they fired him. Basically, what happened...No, let me just say this is completely what I got from the studio. When it was all over, I bumped into him at a Starbucks and I had known him before, kind of just to say hi to. It's not like we were buddies or anything. We had the same agent at one point. We met at social occasions, stuff like that. Anyway, from the studio point of view, he shot the movie and he edited it, and the movie, they felt, just didn't work. And then he edited some more and it didn't work even more. They wanted to test the movie, I guess to try and get him to make some changes, and he also wanted to do re-shoots. They said that they were OK doing re-shoots, that they probably needed to be done. But they didn't want to do the re-shoots until they tested the movie, because maybe they were re-shooting the wrong stuff or the right stuff the wrong way. They didn't want to go out and spend several million dollars for re-shoots without testing it. Walter's point was, you could not test the film properly until you do the re-shoots, because there was stuff missing and it would skew the audience the wrong way. The studio kind of put their foot down and said they were going to preview the film. And Walter said, "No, you're not, or I'm walking off the movie." They said, "Yes, we are," so he basically walked off. And Walter has kind of done this on some other movies. Like a power play, like he's the only director in history that's ever done that. But in this case, the studio was really dissatisfied at that point. They just said, "OK, the hell with him." He walked off, he was gone for seven days, he didn't show up and they notified his agent and his lawyer that he was in breach of contract.

DE: Oh, wow.

JS: He said, "Screw you." And they said, "OK, you're fired." So they took him off the picture. So they hired me to come in and see if I could salvage it. I have to tell you, it was awful. It was really bad.

DE: I saw it.

JS: Well.

DE: Oh, before you even did stuff to it?

JS: I did a lot of stuff to it. I mean, basically, you hated everybody in the film; there was not a shred of humor. To tell you the truth, I never saw the final version, because Coppola took it over at the very end and changed it. There is this whole sub-plot where James Spader is a drug addict and Angela Bassett had an abusive boyfriend who is a drug addict, so she kind of hates him because he is a drug addict, but she is supposed to have this love affair with him. So every time she talked to him or looked at him, she acted like she hated his guts. There was this computer that Walter kind of put in, this voice that announces things that you hear at the airport, and every time anything would happen, this thing would pop up and be like, "Opening door, sitting down, getting up," it would go on excessively to the point where you just tuned it out. And then he had an entire musical score written that was basically...the slow stuff sounded like the stuff that you hear when you got to have surgery that they put on so you can go to sleep, and the action stuff was like Chemical Brothers. You absolutely hated everybody; you couldn't tell what was going on, it was very hard to figure anything out. We tested his all fairness, as a fellow director, you couldn't really say that it was his version since he didn't sanction it. However, it was the version that he presented to the studio, and it was minus a bunch of shots that needed to be re-shot. So these title cards would come up that stated what was missing. But we tested that and the audience absolutely despised it. Twenty percent of the audience walked out, and of the 80% that were left, it got a 25.

DE: It's not good.

JS: This is when you, like, jump off a bridge. I mean, we would kind of jokingly say, "Oh, it will get a 25," like that is so ridiculous, that is like the lowest number that anything has ever gotten. And it got a 25, and if the 20% had stayed, it would have gotten even lower. They despised it. He did things in it that were so bizarre. Like there is this thing, like, Robert Forster, they do this time jump at the beginning and Robert Forster gets fused into this pod thing and basically Spader then has to step up. And they are in this meteor storm, and they are getting sucked towards this black hole. You have this situation where you have Angela Bassett desperately trying to save Robert Forester while James Spader is definitely trying to save the ship. While in Walter's version, the autopilot saves the ship and Spader gets there just after the autopilot finishes saving the ship. I mean, it's like, lame. Is this really happening? The autopilot saves the ship and the hero gets there after the computer just saved the ship? It was actually written that he saves the ship, and it was shot that way. I don't know what was going through his mind. My opinion, personally, is that he needed a payday, he did the movie, and he never really cared about it. I know he said he never liked the sets or the costumes. He basically shot the whole movie in close-ups, which actually made it very nice in terms of re-editing it, because you can take any shot and use it anywhere, because they are all wearing the same outfits and the whole set is gray. He had two cameras at all times. One was a tight close-up, and the other was a loose close-up. Certain people said that he said that he shot the whole movie in close-ups because he hated the costumes, but he shot his previous film all in close-ups, too. I think that, as far as him getting kicked off the movie is politically kind of a smart move, because if the movie did well, he could say, "Well, gee, I made it and they threw me off," and if it failed, and he certainly at that point in his career did not need another failure, he could say, "Well, they kicked me off. I had this great movie and they kicked me off." I worked on the film, I threw out the soundtrack, I completely re-cut the movie, I threw out the drug sub-plot, and I changed a bunch of things around trying to find a couple of places where people actually smiled or where there seemed to be some vague interest between Angela Bassett and James Spader. Streamlined it, changed the voice of the computer, cut out most of the lines, and ended up getting about a 70 with nobody walking out. Frank Mancuso said, "Jack, you saved the studio, we're erecting your statue in front of the studio. What do you want to do next?" And then, about two weeks later, he was out. Then the head of UA was out, then they disbanded UA, a whole bunch of new people came in and they said, "Gee, why is this movie only getting a 70?" And it was after that I was in the process of mixing a movie when I found out that Francis Coppola was taking over the movie. He was on the board of directors. I never saw the final version, but from what people tell me, he made the movie better. They paid me a lot of money. It was a lot of fun. That was that.

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