With a budget of upwards of a reported $180 million, it may have seemed like a surprise choice to tap Robert Stromberg to direct Disney's tent-pole summer offering, 'Maleficent,' starring Angelina Jolie as the title character made famous as the villain in 'Sleeping Beauty.' Stromberg, a veteran of visual and production design with dozens and dozens of credits to his name -- including blockbusters 'Avatar' and 'The Hunger Games' -- had yet to direct a feature before landing the 'Maleficent' gig. After Tim Burton decided to pass on the film, Stromberg (who had worked with Burton on 'Alice in Wonderland'), was finally given his shot.
In October of 2013, it was reported that 'The Blind Side' and 'Saving Mr. Banks' director John Lee Hancock had been brought onto the project for reshoots, a notion that today Stromberg bristles at hearing -- claiming that Hancock was only there to help make cuts to the first act and any reshoots were still shot by Stromberg. Ahead, Stromberg addresses the reshoot stories in depth, plus he explains why 'Maleficent' was the right movie and the right time for him to finally direct.
Are you enjoying your press tour?
Well, it's a new experience for me, but, you know, it's fine. You know, it's part of the game.
But you directed a movie now. It's a good thing people want to talk to you, as opposed to the opposite.
It's all positive, right? When the doors open, it can't be a bad thing.
Why did it take so long for you to direct a movie?
Well, I feel like I've been ready to do that for a long time. But, these films take so long to make. Starting back on 'Avatar' -- it was back-to-back 'Avatar' and 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Oz.' So, those three combined were nearly a decade. So, the reason I got the opportunity to direct was really cultivating relationships I made in those situations and those films. But, actually feeling like I was ready to do it? I felt that for long time.
Were you drawn to this particular story, or did this more work out time-wise and you thought you could do a good job?
No, no. I would never do something just because it sort of worked out. I think there has to be a passion behind the project, otherwise it's two and a half years of your life -- you'd better be engaged in the project and at least be inspired by it.
Do you go to Disney and ask, or did they come to you?
Well, you know, it really developed over the relationship I have with [producer] Joe Roth, who had produced 'Alice' and 'Oz.' In those years of sort of hanging out together, we discussed things other than art direction. So, when we got into character development, he could see there was a passion for other things. I think he put it together, then offered me this script.
When Tim Burton's name fell through, did you use that to your advantage? Like, "Let me do this"?
No. You know, there's a little bit of irony in that when I was doing 'Alice,' I think Tim Burton wasn't attached [to 'Maleficent'], but he was looking into doing it. I remember even chatting briefly about it when we were doing 'Alice' -- and little did I know that I would be the one directing it at that time. It worked out. The timing worked out well. But, I still wanted to do it because I thought it would be a cool adaptation or retelling.
Did you talk to Tim Burton at all after you were named director?
No, I haven't talked to Tim about it. I haven't talked to him in a long time. But, you know, one of these days we will talk about it. But, it hasn't happened yet.
There was a story that John Lee Hancock came on to help with reshoots. What exactly happened there?
Well, we shot a script and basically, collectively, thought that the first act was too long. And we wanted to get to the meat of the story -- we wanted to get to Angelina's character a bit quicker. So, it was sort of blown into this big deal. But, what it really is, is we eliminated like 15 minutes of the first act and then that had to be seamed together. He came in and helped sort of script-wise seam that back together. But, no, all of the stuff that I heard -- I was told of these articles, ironically, while I was shooting the reshoots [laughs]. To boil it down, it was really just to rework the script or the first act because we wanted to bring the film in under two hours -- and it was sort of tying up a lot of loose ends that were created when you cut out 15 minutes of the film. Ironically, the reshoots were with no principals whatsoever. It was just sort of some minor adjustments.
So it was just a few small scenes to bring some of the larger first act scenes together?
It was basically just so that we could streamline the first part. It is nothing more interesting than that.
And I did notice the movie was shorter than what I had originally heard it would be, which is a result of cutting some scenes from the first act, like you just said, unless there's more you haven't mentioned.
No, that's where it came from. And, also, I think we all agreed that under two hours is a good length of time for a PG film. Especially if you're a family, the running time is important and I believe that we still were able to develop characters and find an emotional heart in the story, within two hours.
Was directing a good experience?
It was a very good experience. I think, there was no mystery as to what it was going to be like because I worked with so many other directors and been on the set for over 20 years. So, the awestruck nature of it, that disappeared about 18 years ago. So, it was very comfortable -- there's wasn't anything sort of frightening about it.
Mike Ryan is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.