That is the extent of the story that is being accurately and responsibly reported tonight. What you will also see if you start clicking on Josh Trank stories is a whole lot of smug “Told you so” shade being thrown at the filmmaker as people clamor to make sure you know that they'd heard some rumors. Rumors that none of them, for fairly obvious reasons, were willing to run as news on their sites, and therefore rumors that they should not be reporting now.
UPDATE: There is an article on Hollywood Reporter's website that was published after this piece went up. To be clear, this is not about the work of Borys Kit and Kim Masters, who are very good at what they do, but is instead about reporters speaking in vague terms on Twitter and other social media without being willing to actually print the stories they are referring to.
For the record, I don't know what went on with Josh Trank on the “Star Wars” film he was attached to, and I don't know what went on with Josh Trank on the set of “Fantastic Four,” either. What I do know is that rumors can do just as much damage as fact in this town, if not more. Rumor is easier to pass along, because all you have to do is qualify it as “rumor,” and then you're off the hook. That's if you're doing it in person. I would tread very lightly if I were thinking about publishing a story tonight about any of those rumors. If you didn't have a second source or someone willing to go on the record yesterday, you still don't today, and just because Trank and Disney sent out a press release does not suddenly give you room to start spilling all the rumor you want.
It seems like, even more than before, caution is required here. There is an almost gleeful cruelty that happens when people stumble in this business. The press release that Disney put out lays this decision firmly on Trank, something which allows him to walk away without the black mark of a public firing hanging over him. And that press release does not suddenly count as a “confirmation” of the rumors that have plagued Trank. If you're operating under the impression that “everyone is reporting it” is somehow a shield against journalistic responsibility, you might want to go back and read about the Richard Jewel case, where NBC had to pay some hefty settlements to avoid going to court for libeling Jewel. Every publication on the planet picked up that story, and they could have each ended up having to do the same thing. Just because you think “it's out there now,” you still need to be able to back your own story up.
Look, I've been fired from at least three studio projects. One of those was genuinely infuriating, but the other two made perfect sense. Didn't make it easier, but I could see that we had reached a place where none of us working on the film agreed on what film we were making. It happens on creative endeavors all the time.
We are in a strange age right now. Old journalism, even where still practiced, is broken in some significant ways and has had some major black eyes in the last year. I'm still flummoxed by the entire “Rolling Stone” incident, which was a near-total collapse of what should have been a fairly foolproof system. Online, rules of conduct seem more like gentle suggestions than actual rules, and people seem to constantly move the goalpost of what is worth publishing.
So congratulations if you've heard or shared terrible rumors about Josh Trank. This is a relatively young filmmaker who just got dealt one of the first tough blows of his nascent career, and when you make the choice to use his exit as an opportunity to start sharing those still-unsourced rumors, what you're really doing is piling on, serving no one except your own glee in someone else's setback. That seems like a really unfortunate editorial stance to take.
“Fantastic Four” arrives in theaters July 30, 2015.