When Natalie Portman showed up Monday for the first day of shooting on the New Mexico set of Jane Got a Gun, she was unaware of the turmoil going on behind the scenes of the indie Western. Director Lynne Ramsay had just dropped out after a three-day standoff with producer-financier Scott Steindorff, and Jude Law, who had been recruited only days earlier when star Michael Fassbender abruptly quit the movie, would also exit the project.
Sources close to the project who spoke with The Hollywood Reporter are painting a conflicting picture of who is to blame for Ramsay's exit. Two sources say the Scottish filmmaker (We Need to Talk About Kevin) still had not been presented with an approved schedule, script or budget mere days before shooting was set to begin. Another source says Ramsay, who was revising the screenplay herself, failed to deliver a shooting script despite several delays and increasingly bizarre behavior.
One dealmaker says Ramsay had final cut on the film subject to various parameters. If, for example, the movie went over budget or over schedule, she could lose the right to final cut. In light of the uncertainties, Ramsay’s camp apparently asked to amend her deal to preserve a certain measure of creative control amid the delays. But efforts to discuss such issues with the producers were met with resistance. The producers, according to sources, saw the requests as an attempt to renegotiate a deal that already had been closed. With the two sides at an impasse, Ramsay gave notice on Saturday morning that she was exercising her right to exit the project.
However, Ramsay's departure was kept secret from Portman as producers scrambled to find a replacement director. News of Ramsay's exit broke Monday, and by Tuesday, Gavin O’Connor (Warrior) had been hired to take over the project.
But more drama was to follow.
Less than 24 hours later, Law bolted. Sources say the actor had agreed to join the cast because he wanted to work with Ramsay.
The problems on the high-profile project illustrate the pitfalls that can plague indie productions, particularly those relying on A-list talent.
Steindorff, whose credits include 2011’s The Lincoln Lawyer, is said to have butted heads with Ramsay several times during the last two months as the project hit a number of setbacks on its way to its delayed production start date.
The $15 million-budgeted film is the story of a frontier woman (Portman) who reaches out to an ex-lover to help her defend her farm from her outlaw husband and his gang. Fassbender was to play the ex-lover, but he dropped out in early March because of the delays. Fassbender, according to insiders, was facing a time crunch as his next movie, the Fox tentpole X-Men: Days of Future Past, is about to begin filming.
According to insiders, Steindorff submitted a list of 10 actors who were considered bankable to Ramsay and Portman for approval. But the trio cold not agree on Fassbender’s replacement.
Eventually, it was decided to move Joel Edgerton, who was originally set to play the leader of the outlaws, into the role vacated by Fassbender and to hire Law, who worked with Portman on the 2004 drama Closer, to take on the villain part.
By the time the casting was straightened out, Jane was 10 days behind schedule, having lost valuable prep time. And since Edgerton’s name doesn’t carry the same weight as Fassbender's in the foreign pre-sales world, the film’s financing was on shaky ground.
Those issues were straightened out and the film finally was trotting to its March 18 start date. Then came the big clash between Ramsay and Steindorff over the script, creative control and the budget. A dispute on Friday carried over into Saturday, with Ramsay deciding she wanted out. She apparently has returned home to the U.K.
O'Connor began shooting on Thursday, but not before other problems emerged.
For example, 175 extras had been hired to work this coming weekend but because of the delays, the original schedule was scrapped and the production informed the background actors they weren't going to be used. Producers then had to rehire a brand new group of extras for a newly scheduled midweek shoot.
Sources who have worked with Ramsay say that the director can be fickle and difficult. But her defenders respond that such characteristics are common among top filmmakers and that Ramsay has been painted as particularly difficult because she is a woman.
Jane isn’t the first project Ramsay has spent years developing only to leave it behind under strained circumstances. At one point, she was set to direct the screen adaptation of The Lovely Bones, which was eventually scooped up by DreamWorks and Peter Jackson.
She also suffered a few ups and downs with financing while making her acclaimed indie We Need to Talk About Kevin.