Inside ‘Hellboy’ Reboot’s Fiery Shoot: Fights Over David Harbour, Cinematography and a Tree (Exclusive)

The comic-book reboot opens Friday after a contentious production

hellboy David harbour director Neil Marshall Game of Thrones

Hellboy the comic-book character was born of an unholy union of woman and demon. But the latest “Hellboy” movie was born of clashes between director Neil Marshall and two of the film’s 16 producers.

Insiders on the film told TheWrap about a series of disagreements that boiled over when the producers decided to replace Marshall’s go-to cinematographer, Sam McCurdy. Other spats involved rehearsals, star David Harbour and the design of a tree, insiders said.

Two people familiar with the situation said McCurdy was fired simply for doing what Marshall asked him to do, and that producers Lawrence Gordon and Lloyd Levin were trying to send a message to Marshall that despite being the film’s director, Marshall was not in charge.

An attorney for Levin said that was not the case. “While my client will not comment on why Sam McCurdy was fired as that is a private matter, be advised that it was a group decision and it had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Mr. Levin supposedly sending any kind of ‘message’ to Neil Marshall,” said the attorney, Martin Singer, in an email to TheWrap.

In the same letter, Singer accused Marshall of encouraging this story. He said that based on TheWrap’s questions about the production, this story appeared “to be shaping up as a puff-piece for Mr. Marshall while tarnishing ‘Hellboy’ and my client.”

“I respectfully decline to comment,” Marshall told TheWrap. Gordon also declined to comment.

Director Neil Marshall
Director Neil Marshall / Getty Images

Everyone involved has strong credentials: Marshall and McCurdy’s long professional relationship includes “Blackwater,” one of the best-reviewed “Game of Thrones” episodes. Gordon, who holds the film rights to Hellboy, and Levin, who Gordon delegated to handle much of the day-to-day oversight of the new film, previously collaborated on 1997’s “Boogie Nights” and the two previous “Hellboy” films, starring Ron Perlman. They are currently working on Damon Lindelof’s “Watchmen” adaptation for HBO.

But many top critics were unimpressed by their work on the $50 million-budget film, which currently has a mere 11% on Rotten Tomatoes. The Washington Post called it “dull,” The Los Angeles Times “unnecessary” and The Associated Press “a series of violent vignettes strung together.”

TheWrap’s William Bibbiani enjoyed it, calling the film “a horrifyingly good time.”

Whatever “Hellboy” is, it was forged through numerous disagreements on set, according to insiders whom TheWrap agreed not to name because they feared career repercussions for speaking out. Several issues remain in dispute:

• Three people told TheWrap that Levin interrupted Marshall frequently in front of the crew as Marshall tried to rehearse actors, sometimes giving them different directions than the director. Singer’s attorney disputed that: “In fact, Mr. Levin would speak to Neil Marshall after rehearsals and discuss issues with him at that time.”

• Two insiders said Harbour repeatedly walked off set, refusing Marshall’s requests for more takes. Singer responded for Levin: “My client has no recollection of that ever happening. To the contrary, David Harbour gave everything he was asked of and more during filming.”

• Two insiders said the script was re-written throughout the production. One said those doing the rewriting included actors Harbour and co-star Ian McShane. Singer responded: “Only a few scenes were rewritten during production, and neither David Harbour nor Ian McShane did any rewriting of the screenplay at all. Rewriting certain scenes of a movie during production is customary in the entertainment industry, including by actors, producers, writers and directors.”

• One insider described a prolonged dispute over a surreal tree that figures prominently in the film. Marshall wanted a realistic-looking, asymmetrical tree. But the insider said Levin overruled him, insisting on a symmetrical tree. Then, in postproduction, the tree became asymmetrical again. Singer disputed any suggestion that Levin “somehow mucked it up in a back-and-forth tug-of-war over symmetry versus asymmetry,” adding: “The design of the tree, like hundreds of other design elements in the movie, went through an exhaustive design and evolution process.”

Hellboy Image EW
“Hellboy” set image from Entertainment Weekly

After Marshall handed in his cut of the film, the producers took over. Singer said Marshall had never been promised final cut on the film.

Harbour, McShane and a spokesman for Lionsgate declined to comment. So did McCurdy, who was replaced by Lorenzo Senatore.

Lionsgate, the film’s distributor, has high hopes for “Hellboy.” The first two “Hellboy” films, which were released by Sony and Universal, grossed a combined $259.7 million worldwide.

In its opening weekend, “Hellboy” is projected to earn $17 to 20 million on 3,200 screens, less than the openings weekends for the previous “Hellboy” films and the $57 million opening for last weekend’s “Shazam.” The new “Hellboy” is the only one with an R rating, which may limit its potential audience.

Though the massive success of “Deadpool” in 2016 recalibrated expectations for R-rated comic-book movies, no one expects “Hellboy,” with its relatively modest budget, to come near the huge opening last month for Marvel’s big-budget “Captain Marvel,” which scored a massive $153 million domestic opening with a PG-13 rating.

The original “Hellboy,” directed by Guillermo del Toro and released in 2004 with a PG-13 rating, earned about $23 million in its opening weekend and about $60 million total domestic. “Hellboy 2: The Golden Army,” released in 2008 and also PG-13, had an opening weekend take of roughly $35 million, and earned $76 million domestic total.

Perlman told Collider last year that he wanted to return for a third “Hellboy,” but that it didn’t come together: “I felt like we owed the fans closure… there were too many people who were moving in too many other directions that I just couldn’t pull it off. So if you ask me about it, it’s kind of still an open wound,” he said.