As Hollywood recoils from the shock of Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s abrupt firing from their anticipated “Star Wars” spinoff on the young Han Solo, how will the filmmakers and the powerful Disney machine negotiate the legal fallout?
The directors have been at the wheel of the film, starring Alden Ehrenreich in the role that Harrison Ford made famous, for nearly two years. Physical production commenced in late January in the U.K., and the men completed nearly 17 weeks of shooting through May.
The ouster has ramifications both legal and financial — and could limit Disney and Lucasfilm’s options on how to continue the project, individuals familiar with director deals tell TheWrap.
Reps for studio and the directors did not respond to requests for comment; the Directors Guild of America did not respond by press time.
“The studio is obligated to give them credits,” said Bryan Sullivan, a partner at entertainment law firm Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae, “but it’s a question about how much work has been done.”
According to numerous reports, production stopped in May with about a month left of planned shooting. But an effects-driven movie in the “Star Wars” franchise requires even more meticulous care in prep and significant polishing in postproduction.
The specific terms of Lord and Miller’s contracts are unknown, but Sullivan said that on most directing contracts profit participation and cash bonuses based on performance would “amount to a whole argument over how much work was left to do.”
Another top contract lawyer who deals with the Directors Guild of America, of which Lord and Miller are members and to which Disney is signatory, marveled at how rare and shocking this development is for a project of this size and magnitude.
“Whatever difficulties [the studio] is going to encounter in doing this, there must have been concerns about the commercial success of the project if they don’t take any action,” the individual said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Specific tensions between the directors and Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy became prohibitive in late May, TheWrap reported, and climaxed on Tuesday with the sudden announcement of a “directorial change.”
DGA rules state that when Lucasfilm showed Lord and Miller the door, they had to pay any remaining balance on their salaries (whether they finished all or part of the film). But nothing in the union agreement guarantees a director “contingent compensation,” the individual said, meaning they would have to negotiate to retain any performance-based bonuses commonly attached to a blockbuster franchise like “Star Wars.”
“They may have bought them out,” the legal expert said of the studio, suggesting that the joint statements made in announcing the split signaled some kind of peaceful resolution, including a financial one, between both sides that would avoid a nasty union battle.
The other potential landmine in the matter is securing a new director. The “Star Wars” franchise has previously called on “fixers” to help with lackluster films delivered by their hired hands. Tony Gilroy came on board for several weeks of reshoots on Gareth Edwards’ “Rogue One,” with a major assist from Simon Krane. Edwards was not fired, however.
Names like Ron Howard, Gilroy and Joe Johnston have been floated to step into the Han Solo mishigas, but it’s unclear if any replacement director would need to share credit with Lord and Miller.
But hiring a name director — if they can find one willing to step into the inevitable PR storm — carries its own set of problems.
“If they get someone that big, this could become a Ron Howard Film [title card]. He might got top billing,” Sullivan said of the prospect, which could lead to bean-counting the work done on the film and by whom.
“These are artistic works and people get emotionally invested in them, in addition to being huge commercial venture,” the legal expert said.
One veteran director who is unlikely to get the job is “The Big Chill” filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote the Han Solo script with his son, Jon Kasdan, and also co-scripted previous films in the franchise like “The Empire Strikes Back” and “The Force Awakens.”
The DGA agreement has a provision that says producers cannot replace a director with someone else assigned on the project at the time of his or her firing — a rule intended to protect the rights of directors even in contentious situations with other members of the production team.
As for the truth of what really went down to lead to this shocking move, the insider offered this advice: “Wait for the memoirs.”