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CGI James Dean director never intended casting ‘to be a marketing gimmick’

James Dean’s grave in Fairmount, Indiana. (JOHN HARRELL / Associated Press)
James Dean’s grave in Fairmount, Indiana. (JOHN HARRELL / Associated Press)
By Nardine Saad Los Angeles Times

A director behind the film that cast a CGI version of James Dean says he’s surprised by the backlash it sparked. “Finding Jack” filmmaker Anton Ernst said that he was saddened and confused by the film’s tepid reception after announcing last week that the long-deceased “Rebel Without a Cause” actor had been posthumously cast in the Vietnam War-era drama.

“We don’t really understand it. We never intended for this to be a marketing gimmick,” Ernst told the Hollywood Reporter on Thursday after criticism of the decision washed over social media. Ernst was not immediately available to comment when contacted by the Times.

Ernst’s production house, Magic City Films, obtained the rights to Dean’s image from his family and then made the unusual decision to re-create “a realistic version of James Dean” using “full body” visual-effects tools.

The filmmakers were promptly panned after announcing the casting last week and saying that they reached the decision to “cast” Dean as a complex character named Rogan after searching “high and low” for an actor to play the role.

“Avengers” star Chris Evans, “Lord of the Rings” star Elijah Wood and Zelda Williams, the daughter of late comedian Robin Williams, were among the detractors who blasted the Magic City Films announcement.

The filmmakers had the estate’s backing on the film and touched on the ubiquity of Dean’s image in other advertising and merchandising campaigns. Ernst added that he believed they “would have wanted their family member’s legacy to live on” through film.

“That’s what we’ve done here, as well. We’ve brought a whole new generation of filmgoers to be aware of James Dean,” he said. But the social media reaction, Ernst said, “becomes a distraction” from what the film is about – a movie about love and friendship revolving around the veterans and military dogs who served in the Vietnam War.

It’s unclear now if and how the film will proceed. Pre-production was set to begin this month, with the goal of release on Veterans Day next year.

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