EXCLUSIVE: What is it lately with directors walking off their own movies just before production starts? Two weeks before he was scheduled to begin production as director and star of Garden Of Last Days, James Franco pulled out of the film today. I’m told that effectively scraps a film that had $500,000 spent so far, a $3 million budget and a July 10 production start date. It’s the second time a filmmaker bailed late in the game, after Lynn Ramsay exited Jane Got A Gun hours before production was to start. That film held it together, but I’m told that this will shut down. Franco, currently in theaters in This Is The End, committed to direct and star in late April, just as he was preparing to unveil his latest film, As I Lay Dying, in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes.

I’m hearing that Franco’s exit had to do with a disagreement with financier Millennium over the crew he wanted to hire. Basically, Franco put together a few that didn’t have the experience to get approval from the bond company. Millennium wouldn’t approve his choices.

The film is an adaptation of the bestselling book by House Of Sand And Fog author Andre Dubus III. Millennium signed on to finance a pic produced by Gerard Butler, Alan Siegel, Danielle Robinson and Hanna Weg. Weg wrote the script and longtime Franco collaborators Vince Jolivette and Miles Levy are also producers.

The film is a contemporary thriller set in the seamy underside of American life about three interwoven and ultimately explosive stories: A stripper out of options who brings her 3-year-old daughter to work; an angry, lonely man who gets thrown out of the club; and a foreigner with an endless supply of cash on the brink of committing a terrifying act. Anybody working on that film can identify with these themes of desperation. I’ll sketch in other factors when I get them. I’m hoping somebody will go beyond “two words — creative differences” to explain why this film imploded so close to the start line.