A bitter power struggle between a producer and director has disrupted production of a major studio picture and triggered an investigation by the Directors Guild of America.
The DGA is investigating Paramount Pictures’ comedy “A Night at the Roxbury,” following reports that its writer-producer Amy Heckerling was acting as the director on the film even though it already had a helmer in Peter Markle.
Heckerling’s alleged actions would be a serious violation of a longstanding DGA rule that forbids a producer on a film from also directing the project once a helmer has been engaged. The guild is currently trying to decide whether to file a formal complaint against the studio.
Markle was taken off the picture Monday night and replaced with television director John Fortenberry. Markle had already directed 16 days of footage. “Roxbury” had been shooting since July 21.
Markle’s removal came after he contacted the DGA about Heckerling’s possible violation of the guild rule. Markle, who was pay-or-play, initially contacted the guild about a week before he was taken off the picture.
Markle called the guild again before Paramount replaced him and told a DGA field rep that he thought things on the set were going more smoothly. By that time, however, the DGA was actively investigating. “It has snowballed into this big thing and now it can’t be stopped,” said one source.
“There is a director-producer relationship that has to be respected,” Markle told Daily Variety. “I believe in the guild and its rules. This was a learning experience … not necessarily a great one, but it was a Hollywood experience. I respect the filmmakers and I wish them the best of luck on the project.”
A DGA rep has been on the set since Friday, and sources said Heckerling may decide to remove herself as producer on the comedy, which she also scripted. Heckerling, who wrote and directed the box office hit “Clueless” for Paramount, did not return calls.
Her answering machine message — with her actor-boyfriend Bronson Pinchot’s voice — says: “If you’re affiliated with the motion picture ‘A Night at the Roxbury’ and you’d like to stab someone else who is working on “Night at the Roxbury” in the back, please stay on the line (beep).”
Stuck in the middle of this brouhaha is CAA’s Ken Stovitz, who reps both Heckerling and Markle. Stovitz declined to comment.
On Monday, speculation was rife that the DGA might shut down the production. Tensions rose Friday when the DGA rep showed up on the set to monitor the situation.
On Friday, Par president John Goldwyn stayed only about 45 minutes at his own surprise birthday party before hurrying back to join the studio’s exec on the project, Karen Rosenfelt, and a Par labor relations exec on the set.
As of late Tuesday, both Rosenfelt and a rep from the DGA were still on the set.
At the center of the dispute is just what the understanding was when Markle signed on to direct the picture. All parties agreed that Markle said he would work collaboratively with Heckerling on the film.
At a now infamous pre-production meeting between Goldwyn, Rosenfelt, Heckerling and Markle, sources told Daily Variety, the studio president strongly implied that Heckerling had the studio’s creative trust and would, in fact, control the picture every step of the way.
Sources said Markle called the DGA after Heckerling allegedly showed up with a shot list and gave it to the d.p. and repeatedly conferred directly with the actors.
One source said that Heckerling was just acting as hands-on producer in both instances.
“Markle was to direct the movie but also collaborate on what Amy’s vision was,” said one source. “From there the problems evolved. Each person just saw the film differently. The project wouldn’t even exist if not for Amy.”
Markle confirmed that he agreed to collaborate with Heckerling on the film, but he told Daily Variety, “When you sign on to direct the picture, you assume you are going to be directing.”
There are varying reasons given as to why Heckerling did not want to direct the picture herself. Some sources said that she had been advised by friends to follow “Clueless” with a bigger, perhaps star-driven picture; others said she simply had no desire to direct the comedy.
The studio, apparently happy with the footage, plans to use the film already shot by Markle rather than incur the expense of starting from scratch. However, one source noted that the DGA could bar the studio from using the footage if it ruled in Markle’s favor.
“A Night at the Roxbury,” also known as “The Roxbury Guys,” follows the two Batavi brothers as they try to get into nightclubs. The characters, created on “SNL,” have sideburns, wear slick, sparkly suits, and are constantly dancing, moving their heads from side to side as they talk. The film is being shot on location at the L.A. club the Roxbury on Sunset Boulevard.
Fortenberry directed the NBC pilot “Toonces, The Cat Who Could Drive a Car” for “Saturday Night Live’s” Lorne Michaels, whose Broadway Video is producing “Roxbury.” “Toonces” is also based on an “SNL” skit. He also helmed “Jury Duty,” which starred Pauly Shore.
Markle’s directing credits include “Wagons East,” with the late John Candy, “Bat 21,” “Youngblood” and “Hot Dog … The Movie.”