James Franco abandons directorial project ‘Garden of Last Days’

As I was saying the other day, James Franco has a lot going on. As an actor, he’s already had four films out this year, others from Sundance and Berlin still awaiting release, while his sixth feature as a director, the William Faulkner adaptation “As I Lay Dying,” just premiered at Cannes. He’s got an art exhibition on the go in London, and, with his producer’s cap on, is currently seeking crowdfunding for three feature-length adaptations of his short stories. Whether you love, loathe or are simply bemused by Franco, you can’t accuse him of hiding his light under a bushel. 

So my first thought upon hearing that Franco had abandoned his latest directorial project, “The Garden of Last Days,” was innocent enough: everyone needs to take a vacation sometime. But neither that, nor any conflicting scheduling, are the reason Franco has pulled out of the project just two weeks before it was set to go into production.

Deadline’s Mike Fleming reports that there’s been a fallout between the star and financiers Millennium Films, who have recently funded such films as “The Paperboy” and “The Iceman” (in which Franco also appears), and had rustled up a $3 million budget for Franco’s latest. The point of contention was reportedly the hiring of the crew: Franco, who’s committed to showcasing new talent, assembled a relatively inexperienced team of collaborators with which to proceed, but the bond company (and, consequently, Millennium) preferred a more tried-and-tested approach. Franco, who evidently likes to make film on his own terms, bailed.

Some films with tricky preproduction dramas along these lines weather the storm: look at the embattled “Jane Got a Gun,” which has been something of a revolving-door project ever since British director Lynne Ramsay left production at similarly short notice, Against the odds, it’s still going, albeit with someone else in the director’s chair. In the case of “The Garden of Last Days,” however, Franco’s withdrawal means the entire project is being shut down.

The film, which boasted Gerard Butler among its producers, was to have been an adaptation of Andre Dubus III’s novel of the same title, a three-part story about life in the American margins in the days leading up to September 11, with a young mother-turned-stripper and a potential terrorist of a client among the principal characters. I assume Butler was going to be in the film, as, of course, was the director. First-time screenwriter Hannah Weg wrote the script.

Franco hasn’t been one to shy away from adapting high-end material — taking on Faulkner, after all, was nothing if not ambitious. Dubus III’s “House of Sand and Fog,” meanwhile, didn’t take to the screen with complete success. Looks like we’ll never know if this one would have turned out better, or if Franco simply dodged a bullet here, but you can be sure of one thing: he’s got the next project, whatever it may be, planned out already.