‘Smithee’ by Smithee

NEW YORK — In an ironic example of life imitating art, director Arthur Hiller has pulled his name off his latest film. Under the guidelines of the Directors Guild of America, that means the mock documentary “An Alan Smithee Film” will list Alan Smithee as director.

It’s the first time in his career that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences president has taken his name off a picture.

The film’s writer and co-producer, Joe Eszterhas, recut Hiller’s version, and got much higher scores than Hiller’s cut at two earlier research screenings, sources said. Eszterhas’ cut was 19 minutes shorter with different music.

A somewhat heated exchange ensued between Hiller and Eszterhas in the lobby of the Century City AMC theater, where Eszteras’ test screening was held on Thursday. Hiller basically said he didn’t approve of the cut or of Eszterhas’s intrusion in the editing room. Eszterhas invited him to pull his name off the film, adding that Hiller “should offer to kiss my ass in Times Square for saving this film.”

Things seemed to have settled down Sunday at a meeting at the headquarters of the film’s financier, Cinergi Pictures. Hiller said he’d call Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to get permission for the Gotham posterior smooch, sources said.

One day later, Hiller instead kissed off the film, formally notifying the Directors Guild and Cinergi that he was removing his name.

The film concerns a director actually named Alan Smithee who kidnaps an action pic starring Sly Stallone, Whoopi Goldberg and Jackie Chan. The director hates the film but effectively can’t remove his name because the DGA-mandated Smithee moniker is the same. Instead, he burns the print.

Eszterhas wouldn’t comment about his arguments with Hiller. But he confirmed Hiller was no longer the director of record.

In a statement, he said: “I was informed this afternoon that Arthur Hiller has removed his name from ‘An Alan Smithee Film’ and will be using a pseudonym. Since the Directors Guild stipulates that the only pseudonym a director can use is Alan Smithee, I guess this means ‘An Alan Smithee Film’ will be an Alan Smithee film. I have the greatest respect and affection for Arthur, and I’m sorry that our differences over the editing of the movie led him to take this action. _ I know in my heart that Arthur Hiller _ will not steal the negative and burn it.”

Publicity stunt denied

Asked whether this was a publicity stunt, Eszterhas replied: “I know some people will think this is a guerrilla-style publicity stunt in a guerrilla production. It isn’t. Arthur and I disagreed about the pace of the movie, the tone of the humor and the definition of the word outrageous. Arthur felt that he shot the script as I’d written it, and that my cut of the film was ‘ruthless.’ No writer likes to be in the position of cutting his own words, but since this is a mostly talk mock documentary, I felt that many of my words had to be cut to make the movie work.”

Hiller could not be reached for comment.

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