Why Studios Are Hiring Indie Directors For Blockbusters

From Marc Webb to Gareth Edwards, ScreenCritics Sam explores why studios suddenly want indie directors to helm their big-budget blockbusters.

Lately, the big trend in Hollywood next to rebooting massive successful franchises or digging in the anime and gaming vaults for new hits seems to be taking little-known indie directors and placing them at the helm of big-budget blockbusters. With the trend becoming more apparent by each passing blockbuster, such as 2014’s Godzilla and most recently Kong: Skull Island, perhaps we should step back and really explore why these strange business choices seem to be happening.

As far as I can tell, the trend really began when Marc Webb was given the director’s chair for The Amazing Spider-Man. Having only 500 Days of Summer as his most credible and more well-known film (apart from a few shorts), Webb seemed like a very odd choice given the fact that he had never dabbled in action or big-budget films before, let alone the monumental task of a superhero film. Don’t get me wrong, Webb is a very talented director and when I first heard he would be taking on a new series of Spider-Man films, I was very optimistic that he would do a good job. For the most part, he did, as The Amazing Spider-Man turned out to be a surprisingly solid and well-acted origins tale, if not rehashing the same formula from the first Raimi film. It wasn’t until The Amazing Spider-Man 2 did I really see where studios were going with these choices.

The casting news began to build up as more indie-directors were suddenly thrust into the spotlight. Colin Trevorrow, who previously directed the overlooked comedy Safety Not Guaranteed, had Jurassic World put on his shoulders. Josh Trank, the director behind the pretty spectacular found footage superhero film Chronicle, got hired to direct the new Fantastic Four reboot (we all know how that turned out). Even James Gunn, who was more popularly known for his writing credits in past blockbusters but also dabbled in indie films like Slither and Super, was given Guardians of the Galaxy.

I believe the reasoning behind these choices comes from two relatively valid arguments. The indie filmmakers mentioned have all had solid and critically acclaimed indie films in the past. It could be that studios saw enough potential in them as a new wave of famous filmmakers with household name appeal that they got the jump on their careers and took a risk. In a few cases, it really pays off. James Gunn and Guardians of the Galaxy seemed to be a match made in heaven as Gunn’s style lended perfectly to the style of the comic book. Gareth Edwards, who already had a firm grasp of the more bold and daring monster film concept with his lesser-known Monsters, did a superb job in bringing Godzilla back to life with great directorial flair. Even most recently, Jordan Vogt-Roberts who brought us The Kings of Summer, did justice to Kong: Skull Island.

However, the conspiracy theorist nut in me tends to view it from a different perspective. In an age where not every film is a guaranteed success regardless of the name attached to it, studios are growing more weary and picky of which directors they give their properties to. While the bigger filmmakers of the industry seem to be focusing on passion projects and have gained enough power to demand complete control of their visions – another major risk factor for studios, especially (and most importantly) considering all of the films these indie-directors are attached to are usually just stepping stones to either franchising, universe-building or more sequels.

Could it be that studios are simply taking advantage of lesser known filmmakers for their own personal gain or because they genuinely see talent in them? I believe it’s a little bit of both. Regardless, if the film is considered a success, the directors now have a platform to propel themselves further in their careers while showcasing their talents to a wider audience. On the downside to this, if a studio does not like the way the filmmaker handles the film, they can easily intervene – a problem I’d imagine wouldn’t sit well with bigger directors (e.g. the fallout between Sam Raimi and Sony after Spider-Man 3’s creative differences). These can be problematic, usually resulting in abominations like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 or Fantastic Four where studio interference was very obvious.

For as long as films and potential franchises can be milked for all their worth, studios will continue to fish in the indie-director pond for more candidates. The success rate seems to be more in favour of the directors, though, and there’s a huge plus to this practice: successful films equal higher exposure for new talent. This new wave has plenty of great talent that I’d like to see succeed so we can eventually see greater and more original films – think Christopher Nolan pre-Batman trilogy versus the great films we got as a result of its success. Sounds good to me.

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