Tony Earnshaw: Director who showed the courage to stand up to studio interference

Have your say

Four years ago Cary Fukunaga previewed his minimalist movie version of Jane Eyre to a select audience in Haworth.

The picture wasn’t entirely successful. I put it down to budgetary constraints. But there was real intelligence within it and an evident vision courtesy of the-then 34-year-old Fukunaga.

Then came True Detective, a genuine benchmark in televisual cop dramas. Fukunaga directed the eight-parter and in doing so proved he was a young master. Hollywood came knocking. Things were looking up – for audiences as much as the filmmaker who gave them smart product that got people thinking. So there was a real buzz around a new version of Stephen King’s epic novel, It, about a sinister beast that haunts a small American town. Fukunaga was tagged to direct. Then it all went terribly wrong. Various stories and rumours emerged. The director cast young Brit Will Poulter as Pennywise, the clown and living embodiment of the thing that snatches away children. That was potential problem number one, particularly in light of the actor who played the role in the 1990 TV series: Tim Curry.

Then came another sticking point. Fukunaga is said to have wanted to make It – the novel runs to almost 900 pages – into two movies. The first was budgeted at around $30 million – pretty low in this brave new world of $200 million behemoths. Preferring not to compromise his vision, Fukunaga is said to have clashed with studio chiefs at New Line. But the rumour mill alleges that it was his casting of 22-year-old Poulter that put the cat among the pigeons. Now the films have been shelved and Fukunaga has reportedly left the project. Was he pushed? Did he jump? Was he fired? No one is saying.

But fans of Stephen King have reacted with fury. Very few of the writer’s books have been made into truly effective movies but it was said that King liked the script, written by Fukunaga and Chase Palmer. Now there are grave concerns that the production will ever get going again.

It would be easy to criticise Fukunaga – to assume that ego in some way contributed to his exiting It. Perhaps a better approach might be to applaud his tenacity in the face of studio interference. For today’s movies – particularly studio releases – are rarely the product of one mind. They are made by committee. A director is less a visionary than a hired hand. And heaven help him if he dares to rock the boat. One assumes that Fukunaga’s ship went belly up because he dared to question the status quo. His casting was adventurous, his concept daring and bold. But he came up against an immovable force: money and the unwillingness to risk it on what might be a filmmaker’s folly.

Me, I disagree. I’d have given Fukunaga free rein to bring his ideas to the screen – to make perhaps the ultimate Stephen King horror show. After all, it’s only money. But sadly it’s not my money...