NEW YORK — Confirming Daily Variety’s story that he’d put the moniker Alan Smithee at the helm of “An Alan Smithee Film” after screenwriter Joe Eszterhas edited his cut, director Arthur Hiller said he exited the film with a heavy heart.

Though he acknowledges the irony of Smithee getting credit in “Smithee,” he wasn’t laughing Wednesday.

“This is no stunt, this is very painful for me,” said Hiller, who, ironically, was attending a DGA national board meeting and unavailable to comment for the original story (Daily Variety, May 6, 1997).

“It was Cinergi’s decision, and clearly they decided to release Joe’s version, which was radically different from my own,” said Hiller. “It’s not the film I had agreed to direct, and needless to say, it’s very painful to pour your efforts and creativity into a project for months.”

Hiller said he and Eszterhas had a strong difference of opinion after the writer’s cut was shown to a test audience late last week.

“At the meeting at Cinergi, I said three times that I felt strongly about my version, but nobody agreed with me. It was loud and clear they were going forward with Joe’s version.” The decision was made by Cinergi execs and the film’s producers: Eszterhas and Ben Myron.

What was different between the two? “As Joe said, he’d taken out a lot of his dialogue, but I felt he’d also taken out a lot of the storyline and human values of the characters,” said Hiller. “As he knows, I feel he’s turned it into an extended ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketch. Maybe that will be the successful way, but it’s not the one I poured my creativity into.”

Hiller acknowledged that the film still needed work, but said he was prepared to do another cut, one that would have incorporated some of the writer’s ideas. Hiller was even prepared to put up his own money to do it. Cinergi, he said, preferred to stick with Eszterhas.

The film will be distributed this fall by Disney-based Hollywood Pictures. Along with Hiller, the entire original editing crew was replaced.

In a world ruled by directors, the notion of a writer taking over a cut is a radical departure for a studio film. It’s not the first time a director has been removed from the mix; it happened to Kevin Reynolds when he and star/producer Kevin Costner squabbled over the final cut of “Waterworld.”

A spokesman for the DGA confirmed that Hiller had requested the Smithee pseudonym, and said that the Guild’s Western Directors Council is currently reviewing the request and the entire situation.

Reached in the editing room, Eszterhas said: “As far as I’m concerned, there is no personal animosity here. Even after Arthur decided to take his name off the movie, he very graciously offered to help me finish it. Considering his feelings about the cut, I thanked him for his generous offer and declined.”

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