The Gamma Boss: Director Josh TrankThe Dark Herald
Gamma Males simply can’t handle success, they just aren’t designed for it.
But few Gammas were so completely destroyed by hitting the big time as Fantastic Four (2015) director Josh Trank.
Back in 2012, 21st Century Fox was facing a problem. The superheroes they had licensed from Marvel came with a ticking time bomb clause. If a film wasn’t in the theaters or being filmed before the clock reached zero, the license exploded, and the rights reverted back to Marvel.
Up until that time, the view at Fox had been, Marvel is still a pretty rinky-dink outfit. They will be happy enough to sign an extension for a few million. But in 2009 Marvel had been devoured by Mickey the Great and Terrible. There was no way in hell Disney was going to renew any of Fox’s licenses.
The two properties in immediate danger were Dare Devil and The Fantastic Four. Joe Carnhan tried to launch a 1970’s reboot of Dare Devil but by 2012 it was obvious that the project had fallen apart. Disney was willing to offer an extension on Dare Devil and the Fantastic Four in exchange for Fox permanently and immediately ceding all rights to Silver Surfer and Galactus. Fox said, no, and Dare Devil reverted to Disney.
That left Fantastic Four under the ax. Fox’s two previous Fantastic Four movies were most easily described as, meh and bleh. The franchise was going to need a reboot. Fox gave it a healthy budget and hired the new wunderkind director who was the absolute hotness in town; Josh Trank.
Like any Gamma male, Josh Trank’s problems began slightly before high school. His father was a documentary producer, and his mother was a teacher. When Josh was thirteen, Richard Trank divorced his wife and shortly thereafter married comedy writer Judy Toll. I have nothing documented on this but in America, there is usually only one reason the wife doesn’t get custody and that’s because she didn’t want the kids.
If true, this maternal rejection laid the foundation for what was to come.
The blended family relocated to Hollywood. Trank’s stepmother had had a few brushes with success in Hollywood but nothing that really stuck. Toll was the co-writer of Casual Sex? (1988) and had written a few TV episodes. She was known and well-liked in the Hollywood community. Judy had the unenviable task of trying to win over a kid with a strong disposition towards a low socio-sexual rank, to begin with, and he didn’t like her. She came into his life after puberty. You can establish a good relationship with a new stepchild after the age of twelve, but establishing a parental relationship isn’t really possible. For most of human history when you were fourteen it was out the door, and our instincts are still pretty much geared for that. You can have a good relationship but there are some roles you just won’t be able to fill. Mother would be one of them, especially if your real mother had rejected you.
High school seems to be the place where Gamma is set in stone. In Josh Trank’s case, he was going to high school in Beverly Hills where he was always the poorest boy in the class. He was constantly teased for being fat and having man-boobs. He was furious, helpless, fat, and the poor kid.
During this time Judy Toll introduced him to showbiz by having him perform with The Groundlings theater and improve troop. Trank suddenly knew what he wanted to do with his life.
Showbusiness has a strong appeal for Gammas. A Gamma can affect brilliance without quantifiable results. Sneer at everyone around him who isn’t as “special” as he is. Plus, he can “have revenge on his high school bully” by obtaining the trappings of success, even if the rest of his life is built on feet of clay. The sad truth of this revenge is, that at the next reunion, his old bully will reduce him to a pile of quivering, humiliated impotent rage with three well-chosen words.
After high school, Trank set about making a few web shorts, convinced he was the “new Spielberg.” He did occasional editing on real films and made ends meet working part-time at Walmart.
While Josh’s father and stepmother had never had any big-time success, they were known and well enough liked in the industry. It gave him that most valued of things in Hollywood, The Golden Rolodex. People would return his folk’s calls. It got his resume moved to the top of the pile.
And it got him his shot at the brass ring with Chronicle. With a budget of $12 million Fox barely could notice its existence, until they saw a $112 million dollar bump in the second quarter. Chronicle was a huge hit for everyone involved, although its screenwriter Max Landis said, that its success was in spite of Trank not because of him.
Regardless, Josh Trank was now the It Boy. He had meetings with the big wigs all across town. Job offers came at him left and right and a beautiful woman took him off the market. He was married within six months of meeting her.
Now you would think somebody whose life was now Peter Gabriel’s Big Time would be pretty happy. But Trank is on the record as saying the more successful he got, the angrier he got with boys from high school. This was the time in his life where he should never have been thinking about high school ever again and it was all he could think about. At one point he punched a wall and broke his hand.
After that he reached out to director Robert Rodriguez for spiritual advice, so he sent Trank some self-help books. What else was Rodriguez supposed to do? He was scarcely acquainted with this guy who suddenly thinks he’s Blind Master Po from Kung Fu.
Josh Trank had every opportunity imaginable being handed to him but he was buckling under the pressure of having to meet high level expectations.
He was attached to several important projects during this period. Although, in hindsight, he did very little with any of them. He was attached to Shadow of the Colossus but only sent off some notes to the writer. He was signed to do a Star Wars anthology movie. And he was briefly working on Venom, just long enough to come up with a really terrible concept, Trank wanted to do Venom as The Mask (1994).
“I thought this was an opportunity to make something really character-y, uncomfortable, and break ground in terms of having this super nuanced uncomfortable character story with the branding of a massive four quadrant superhero film.” Note the use of the word uncomfortable twice in the same sentence (put pin in that one).
So, no, he fundamentally didn’t get the character of Venom at all. Sony producer Matt Tolmach gave it a hard pass.
“I didn’t like how Matt was coming at me in that situation because it felt very kind of authoritative. Well, if you don’t like what I’m doing and you’re telling me that I have to do something along the lines of what you want, and you’re going to tell me in this way sorry I have other things I can be doing.”
Sidenote: Josh Trank was forced on Tolmach by then Sony president Amy Pascal. He never wanted Trank in the first place.
21st Century Fox offered him an original project of his own choosing but he knew that Fantastic Four was in the fast lane and he said he wanted that. Not that he knew anything about the Fantastic Four, that was obvious, it was just an established nameplate that he wanted to subvert for his own goals. He had no respect for the property.
Remember, Fox had no one whose job it was to look after their Marvel IPs like Kevin Feige, they were in this to retain the rights. Fox announced this movie back in 2009 the day after Disney had bought Marvel but then did nothing with it until the clock started to run out. And there were minimum budget and theatrical release clauses in the license. Fox couldn’t just make a $10,000 student film, never release it, and keep the rights. They had to spend real money on the project.
Trank wanted to do Dark and Gritty Fantastic Four and that is simply not what they are supposed to be. “They are the most Disney of all the Marvel hero teams.” If you want to see a good F4 movie then watch The Incredibles, it gets the feel of that comic book just right.
Gammas have egos that are as thin as crystal. It takes nothing to shatter them. Trank was expecting delight from Marvel fans that someone with a talent as special as his was going to be helming a film about the first family of Marvel. The problem was, F4 fans had hated the last two movies from Fox and wanted the rights to revert to Disney. Rumors coming off the set did nothing to reassure them. Michael B. Jordan enraged the Kirby faithful by saying that Josh didn’t want to use his designs because they were too cheesy. Kate Mara caused strokes when she said, Josh, didn’t want us to read the comics because we wouldn’t be doing that stuff anyway. He didn’t really like reading them himself, he wasn’t into the characters at all. The only villain he liked was Moleman because he was so angry all the time.
Trank dealt with out-of-the-gate rejection as well as any Gamma would. He would get into Twitter fights with fans. Including one where he posted a picture of his dog’s butt hole and compared it to Marvel fans.
After six months there was no script and the studio started assigning people to take the project in hand. These were all movie-making veterans who were not at all impressed by the guy with one “I guess it was okay” film under his belt. They are the ones that wrote the script (put a pin in that one too), gave it to Trank, and said, this what you are shooting.
He was developing genuine mental health issues beyond mere Gamma when filming started.
During production one of his dogs died. That night he did $100,000 worth of damage to the rental property he was staying at, and the president of Fox reportedly had to fly out and apologize in person to the owner. Trank blamed his other dogs.
Trank wasn’t showing up on set and when he was, he was either drunk or high. When he was functional at all he was abusive to everyone on set and allegedly left Kate Mara in tears frequently.
Just covering the rumors coming off the set of the Fan4stick was a full time job for Midnight’s Edge.
Josh Trank’s next meltdown was on 4-Chan of all places.
One of the commenters who was leaking on 4-Chan worked for the CG effects company, Otoy, that Josh Trank had pushed hard for Fox to use. Basically, the guy from the effects company said, they weren’t remotely qualified to do a movie. And they couldn’t get answers from Trank on such standard things as, how big is The Thing supposed to be? Josh got on 4-Chan left a wall of text screed in answer to it.
However, he eventually did turn in a working cut. A dark and gritty, Cronenberg-like body horror Fantastic Four movie that would leave audiences very uncomfortable. Yeah, not so much like The Incredibles, no. In fairness to Trank, this is exactly what he always said he would deliver. Fox executives had somehow interpreted that as a “light and fun Avengers-style movie.” They were reportedly disappointed in the result. In fairness to the studio, the working cut didn’t have a third act because Trank hadn’t shot one.
Again, this movie was first and foremost, a rights retainer. If it didn’t start shooting by a certain date, the First Family of Marvel was automatically Disney’s. The plan was always to shoot the third act on the fly. Fox decided they weren’t going to do that with Trank. He was not invited back on set.
During the reshoots, Kathleen Kennedy got cold feet about Trank. Trank claimed that he had pulled out of Star Wars due to scheduling conflicts and gave an unneeded but very extensive explanation as to why he hadn’t appeared with the Star Wars group at Comicon. But according to the Hollywood Reporter there was nothing voluntary about it. He was fired.
The finished product was a Frankenstein movie cobbled together in the editing room. The extensive reshoots were pretty obvious just by looking at Kate Mara’s hair. She had had to cut it short for another role after Fant4stick “wrapped.” And there are scenes where she is clearly wearing wig that doesn’t come close to what her hair looks like in other scenes. It’s easy to tell where the reshoots were spliced in based on that. Fox hid it as long as they could but on the night it was released the Rotten Tomatoes score was 09% positive.
Trank then made this Tweet;
This is a lie. He never wrote a script. There was never a locked-cut like there was with Zach Snyder’s Justice League. There was no ending to the working cut he turned in. And this tweet was a huge middle-finger to everyone who had tried to rescue his colossal fuck up.
The marketing campaign went with of all things, a victim strategy. There had been a small amount of racial bitching regarding Jordan’s casting as Johnny Storm. What makes Fantastic Four work is the family dynamic and Johnny is Sue Storm’s brother. There were three possible choices for the studio-mandated race-bend and Trank picked exactly the wrong one. However, the victim strategy was all that marketing had to work with at that point because they sure as hell couldn’t sell the actual movie.
The boxoffice take was $167 million worldwide against a budget of $120 million (and I doubt if that included reshoots).
Gammas simply aren’t capable of handling the burdens of real success like the ones that were placed upon Josh Trank. And while the results usually aren’t this extreme, they are quite inevitable. Gammas are built for resentment, not leadership.
Okay, I’m done here.