On a film set, it takes a single cohesive voice to put all the creative elements, team and storyline together. Most of the time, that influence comes from a single individual but directing duos like The Duplass Brothers, The Wachowski Brothers, or my favorite, the Cohen Brothers, tells us how each voice contributes so much to the narrative, as long as it’s cohesive and you can get people to pay for a ticket to watch it.
In the last 15 years, much of Hollywood has become homogenized in the storyline; The predictable plot points or the long-winded “I’m going to end you” speech before the protagonist reaches past their depths to overcome evil is a safe passage for producers and investors who are focused on the business side of Hollywood. But what value do we put on the artistic integrity of an original storyteller? Nobody should really argue that films do not need to generate a profit and recoup production costs, especially if there are investors that expect to get a return on their investment.
So, is filmmaking a business or an art? Is Spiderman 4 an artistic statement or is it a strategic business endeavor that has a formula for success? There is a formula and when the business is focused on just that singular focus on making money and ROIs, the value of film being an art form, a medium, diminishes with every calculated move. When the business is so heavily set on profitability, the risks are less daring and the stories become stale, generic and formulized.
This article, “Is Hiring a First Time Director a Risk?” found on the American Film Market (AFM) website by Stephen Follows and Bruce Nash produces some great statistical findings about what type of calculated risks follows hiring a 1st time director looking for their directorial debut. As Hollywood feeds on more of the same, taking less risks, hiring a first-time director may seem out of the question.
As we see in Follows and Nash’s study, from a 20-year span (1999-2018), evidence of 1st time directors having box office success or profitability measures well with repeat film directors with a proven track record. Directors with no proven box office success of course does not fit into the Hollywood business formula. That’s why it’s important to take a close look at what 1st time directors can do, dissect the budgets of the productions and measure the hardline data.
The stats are in. The first time director productions perform on par, and sometimes better than the known director depending on the production budget. Follows and Nash find, “Notably, in this analysis, first time directors are just as likely to make breakout hits as repeat directors.” This conclusion leads me to believe that the risks outweigh the rewards.
The rewards are great. We are living in a society where media is digested like yesterday’s take out. Stories and information are consumed and discarded on a 24-hour ubiquitous cycle but there are some of those stories that resonate long after you see them. Whether it’s a 1st time director, the next franchise saga or a big budget auteur, the likes of Tarantino, Terrance Malick, Wes Anderson; The golden rule: to tell a story that stands out from the rest, then own those stories and build a brand so the audience knows what to expect.
The expectations for a first-time Helmer are reasonably low. They are green so how could they knock it out the park on the first at bat? But it happens and it will happen again, as long as the Hollywood community sees the importance supporting new cubs to the den.
Some noteworthy 1st time directors that found success on their first Hollywood directorial run: Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich), The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont), Sam Mendes (American Beauty), Terrence Malick (Badlands), Robert Redford (Ordinary People), Cameron Crowe (Say Anything), Steve McQueen (Hunger), Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men), John Singleton (Boys in the Hood), Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), Orson Welles (Citizen Kane).
Somewhere along the way, these directors found a way. Someone took a chance on them. When new directors get their opportunity, the stories they tell become just as important as their constituents and supports of the art cinema, preserving the great frontier of storytelling.
Anderson Seal is an award winning filmmaker, video producer, editor, writer and director. A graduate of Cal State University Long Beach, community advocate, father, husband and entrepreneur.
Follows, S & Nash, B. (2019, month unknown). Is Hiring A First-Time Director A Risk? [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://americanfilmmarket.com/is-hiring-a-first-time-director-a-risk/