‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Sequel Loses Director Sam Taylor-Johnson
And so it begins. We’ve heard the stories of issues on set between Fifty Shades of Grey director Sam Taylor-Johnson and author E.L. James, making it seem unlikely that Taylor-Johnson would return to direct the sequel. Universal has now made it official: Fifty Shades Darker is in the market for a new director, as Taylor-Johnson has declined to return.
Taylor-Johnson’s unsatisfactory experience working on Fifty Shades of Grey has been no secret, and the director herself was quite forthcoming in a great Vanity Fair profile covering the making of the film. So Variety’s report that Taylor-Johnson has decided not to return for Fifty Shades Darker isn’t exactly surprising, though it is disappointing.
Screenwriter Kelly Marcel will also not return to script the sequel, as rumors have been swirling that E.L. James is demanding more script control — which isn’t a good thing. According to previous reports, James’ interference led to the first film’s tepid ending, but it was Marcel’s work on the script that elevated the source material from a joyless, flat and oft-offensive narrative to an entertaining (if not particularly great) story, giving the character of Anastasia a sense of humor and even more important, a sense of agency.
The loss of both Marcel and Taylor-Johnson is huge, and James taking more creative control on the two sequels is reminiscent of the reports of Roberto Orci’s behavior on Star Trek 3 — Orci was said to have been so stubborn and uncooperative that he scared off potential directors until Paramount had no choice but to give him the director’s chair.
At this point, it seems like James won’t be satisfied until she’s writing the screenplays entirely on her own. Gillian Flynn’s work adapting her own source material for the Gone Girl screenplay was so exquisite because she was willing to kill her darlings and take creative input from director David Fincher — that hasn’t been the case with James, according to numerous reports. Novels and films are very different narrative mediums, and what works on the page (or often doesn’t, in the case of Fifty Shades) doesn’t always translate well to the screen.
Fifty Shades of Grey may not have been a great film, but it was much better than it could have been thanks to Marcel, Taylor-Johnson and Dakota Johnson’s performance. Unless Universal can wrangle some impressive talent to replace the writer and director, I’m not sure Fifty Shades Darker can succeed based on Johnson’s performance alone.