LOS ANGELES, March 19 — In Hollywood creative differences among moviemakers often make for more interesting results on the screen. But rarely do those battles escalate so much that a studio takes a movie away from an award-winning director.
After Ms. Taymor delivered the movie to Joe Roth, the film executive whose production company, Revolution Studios, based at Sony, is making the Beatles musical, he created his own version without her agreement. And last week Mr. Roth tested his cut of the film, which is about a half-hour shorter than Ms. Taymor’s 2-hour-8-minute version.
Mr. Roth’s moves have left Ms. Taymor feeling helpless and considering taking her name off the movie, according to an individual close to the movie who would not be named because of the sensitivity of the situation. Disavowing a film is the most radical step available to a director like Ms. Taymor, who does not have final cut, one that could embarrass the studio and hurt the movie’s chances for a successful release in September.
Ms. Taymor declined to be interviewed, but issued a carefully worded statement: “My creative team and I are extremely happy about our cut and the response to it,” she wrote. “Sometimes at this stage of the Hollywood process differences of opinion arise, but in order to protect the film, I am not getting into details at this time.”
Mr. Roth, a former Disney studio chief who proclaimed his ’60’s-influenced, artist-friendly ethos in 2000 by naming his new company Revolution Studios, is himself a director, of films like “Christmas With the Kranks,” “Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise” and “Freedomland.”
He said that Ms. Taymor was overreacting to a normal Hollywood process of testing different versions of a movie, something he has done many times before, including with Michael Mann’s “Last of the Mohicans.” He called his version of “Across the Universe” “an experiment.”
“She’s a brilliant director,” he said. “She’s made a brilliant movie. This process is not anything out of the ordinary. Her reaction through her representatives might be. But her orientation is stage. It’s different if you’re making a $12-million film, or a $45-million film. No one is uncomfortable in this process, other than Julie.”
And he warned that the conflict could hurt the movie. “If you work off her hysteria, that will do the film an injustice,” he said. “Nobody wants to do that. She’s worked long and hard, and made a wonderful movie.”
A spokesman for Sony Pictures Entertainment declined to comment, saying the project was developed by Revolution.
“Across the Universe” stars Evan Rachel Wood as Lucy, an American teenager, and Jim Sturgess as Jude, a British import, who fall in love during the turbulent 1960s. The movie, set to 35 Beatles songs, seems to spring from Ms. Taymor’s experimental sandbox, combining live action with painted and three-dimensional animation and puppets, and featuring cameos by Eddie Izzard, dressed as a freakish Mr. Kite; Bono, singing “I Am the Walrus”; and Joe Cocker, singing “Come Together.”
Ms. Taymor has been editing the film for the better part of the last year, after completing the shoot in 2005. An initial release date of September 2006 was pushed off.
Mr. Roth said he had been working with Ms. Taymor on and off during nine months of editing, and that the problem was merely one of length.
Under pressure from Mr. Roth and after test screenings, Ms. Taymor trimmed the film from an initial 2 hours 20 minutes. She told associates she considered the film finished.
Fights between visionary filmmakers and studios are nothing new. Orson Welles spent most of his career fighting with studios that took away his movies, editing options and even limited his film stock. And those fights commonly focus on the running times of movies, which, as critics have noted, seem to grow inexorably longer.
But it is rare for an executive to step in and cut the movie himself. Ms. Taymor was still making her own final edits to the film when she learned several weeks ago that Mr. Roth had edited another, shorter version. That version was tested last week in Arizona, to a younger audience than the more mixed test group than saw Ms. Taymor’s cut in Los Angeles on March 8, according to an individual close to the film.
Mr. Roth, who vowed never again to allow a director final cut after the disastrous 2003 Martin Brest movie “Gigli,” said that the various versions were testing well, but that he had a responsibility to find the most successful incarnation. “It’s ‘show’ and it’s ‘business,’ ” he said.
Ms. Taymor has been showered with numerous awards, including a MacArthur “genius” grant in 1991. The stage version of “The Lion King,” which currently has nine productions worldwide, is notable for Ms. Taymor’s unusual staging and the use of mechanical masks that make the actors seem like real animals. (Mr. Roth, who ran Disney at the time, admitted to having been skeptical about the masks but later told Ms. Taymor he’d been wrong.)
Ms. Taymor has had more mixed results in Hollywood. Her bloody Shakespeare adaptation, “Titus,” bombed at the box office, taking in just $1.9 million. “Frida,” in 2002, about the artist Frida Kahlo, was successful, winning two Oscars and a moderate financial windfall.
Mr. Roth said he believed that the current tensions would be worked out, and that Ms. Taymor would find the best, final version of the film somewhere between his own and her last cut.
But those in Ms. Taymor’s camp were more skeptical, saying the director was not inclined to make any more changes. Ms. Taymor herself struck a more conciliatory note in her statement: “I only hope that we will be able to complete the film we set out to make.”