A movie can take years to make, from pre-production all the way to the opening night. The director is there throughout every step and has to carefully plan everything out and lead the cast and crew in the right direction to realise their vision. However, their work is not necessarily the studio’s vision for the film.
There have been many instances where the studio funding the film go behind the director’s back and edit the film to their liking, often butchering the film. The director will of course be angry and saddened by all their hard work being ruined. In cases like this, directors often request their name be taken off the film’s credits to both distance themselves from the film and to prevent their career being hindered by being associated with work they consider to be terrible.
They will use a pseudonym in place of their own name so no one will know they directed the film, although in this day and age of the internet, it is almost impossible to hide the truth. These days, it is more of a symbolic act than one of concealing the truth.
Below are ten directors who refused to have any more involvement with a film they put their heart and soul into before the film got tarnished enough for them to use a fake name.
10. Kiefer Sutherland as Alan Smithee with Woman Wanted (1999)
Many actors have a go at directing films themselves, and Kiefer Sutherland attempted this in 1999 with his film Woman Wanted, which he also starred in. Although it was not his directorial debut, it was certainly the end of his directing career.
The problems with the film are actually quite simple; the pacing is very slow and the plot is just plain boring. The original cut of the film is credited to Sutherland, but the TV edit of the film omits important scenes that make the film worse. These are edits Sutherland was against, so he replaced his name with the notorious Alan Smithee name.
What makes Woman Wanted notable from every other film on this list is that it was the last film to ever use the pseudonym “Alan Smithee” for the director’s credit. Sutherland already has a prolific career, and this is perhaps one of the lesser accomplishments he has made professionally.
9. Richard C. Sarafian as Alan Smithee with Solar Crisis (1990)
Solar Crisis is a science fiction film made in 1990 about a giant flare from the sun that will destroy Earth unless it is stopped by a team of scientists. It has a budget of 55 million dollars and starred Hollywood royalty like Charlton Heston, Jack Palance and Peter Boyle. Unfortunately for everyone involved, especially its director Richard C. Sarafian, Solar Crisis came and went without much fanfare, except for how terrible it was.
Solar Crisis has too much talking and not enough action, with said talking often being exposition that was usually unnecessary. Despite the dramatic plot that should have had a lot of action throughout along the lines of similar end of the world films, such as Armageddon and The Core, the film is just plain boring. Sarafian was unhappy with the studio’s meddling of his film that he requested that the name “Alan Smithee” be used instead.
8. Noah Baumbach as Ernie Fusco with Highball (1997)
Sometimes with filmmaking, it does not matter if the director has the best intentions. If the production values are poor and the film shoot is rushed, then the film will probably turn out poorly.
Director Noah Baumbach’s early indie film Highball was shot in six days on a shoestring budget, and perhaps because of how rushed the production was, it should be no surprise that the final film was a mess that did not meet the director’s expectations.
Baumbach has commented on Highball: “It was a funny script. But it was just too ambitious. We didn’t have enough time, we didn’t finish it, it didn’t look good, it was just a whole… mess.”
Baumbach had a falling out with the producer, so he did not complete the film. The film was finished, without Baumbach’s approval, and directed by “Ernie Fusco” and written by “Jesse Carter”.
7. Walter Hill as Thomas Lee with Supernova (2000)
Science fiction movies are often expensive and have a big budget to work with, and there are numerous sci-fi films that went over budget because of the expensive special effects and sets. However, what is not so common is to have the budget being cut halfway through shooting the film, limiting director Walter Hill’s resources when he made Supernova.
After further disagreements with the studio, Hill left the production, and horror film director Jack Sholder and producer Francis Ford Coppola reshot parts of the film. It is believed that little of Hill’s work remained in the final film, and both the final film’s acting and CGI are considered to be terrible. Understandably, Hill wanted no more association with Supernova. As the Alan Smithee name had become too well known and discontinued by 2000, the pseudonym “Thomas Lee” was chosen instead.
6. Dennis Hopper as Alan Smithee with Catchfire (1990)
Dennis Hopper has had a fascinating career to say the least. While he did not direct as many films as he acted in, his directorial debut Easy Rider changed cinema forever and it truly is a masterpiece. His follow up film The Last Movie bombed and was considered too strange for audiences. He directed other movies afterwards with mixed results, but his 1990 thriller Catchfire was not one of the positive experiences.
Vestron Pictures, the film’s distributers, were not happy with the outcome of Catchfire, so they went behind Hopper’s back and parred down the running time to 98 minutes. Hopper left the project because of this and the film is credited to “Alan Smithee”.
However, when Catchfire was released on cable television, Hopper’s 116 cut of the film has been shown on cable television and has the film’s original title Backtrack.