Food for Thought: Do Blockbuster Movies Need More Experienced Directors?

In this new editorial, Food for Thought, we will be taking a popular story in the world of movie news and really analyze it. We'll talk in depth about the pros and cons of the story and really get our hands dirty. Now, these topics will be more than a casting choice or something we can easily write an article about otherwise; these will feature more grey topics and highly opinionated discussions. So, without further adieu, let's get started!

In this installment, we will talk about whether blockbusters need more experienced directors. 

This month, Fantastic Four opened in theaters. It failed miserably with critics and fans, and even at the box office. After its release, I posted an article explaining the continuously developing story of what happened behind the scenes, which you can read here. The story sounded like one we have heard a lot as of late-- the studio had an inexperienced director at the helm and they were able to bully him, resulting in a mess of a movie. We have heard this happen countless times-- Gavin Hood with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Marc Webb with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and others. It's not only comic book movies, but those are prime examples. It happens with all kinds of movies, but the comic book ones are bigger, so we are more aware of what happens behind the scenes. For a smaller film, it may just be discounted as a bad movie rather than a case of studio interference.

But the common thread is the same-- a director with less film credits is easily pushed around by the multi-billion dollar studio. So the question comes down to this: do blockbusters need more experienced directors? The trend right now is to get directors who may not have a lot of credits, but have done well with independent and smaller movies. Take a look at the directors behind some of this year's biggest movies. Colin Trevorrow had only done Safety Not Guaranteed before he did Jurassic World. Christopher McQuarrie had The Way of the Gun and Jack Reacher before he did Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation. Peyton Reed had directed two or three smaller comedies before he did Ant-Man. And of course, Josh Trank had only directed Chronicle before he did Fantastic Four.

So are studios jumping the gun by having a director who's done only one small film take the reins of a billion dollar franchise? We've seen many cases where it has failed, such as Fantastic Four. An indie director has more freedom to do as he pleases with an independent film. Since the budget is $6 million or $12 million or maybe even $20 million, there aren't as high stakes. A director can take more risks and have more control, because there isn't as much riding on that film. But when you are directing a movie with a $130 million or $150 million or maybe even $200 million dollar budget, then your creative control begins to dwindle. 

It's also not just about creative control-- it's also about management. Smaller films are, well, smaller. They're easier to run and control. If you're directing two actors in an alley, then that's easier to manage. But if you're having to worry about green screen and 200 extras and pyrotechnics, then it becomes a little bit harder. Inexperienced directors who have done only one film prior to a giant studio film may not be ready to handle something of that caliber. And what ultimately suffers? The film. And the fans who have waited two years to see the movie.

Colin Trevorrow at the premiere of Jurassic World

But here's the flip-side. When you're low on budget and you don't have a lot of resources, what can you do to make your movie better? Focus on story. Indie directors may not know how to film a high speed chase involving green screen and stunt doubles and twenty cars, but they can tell a really good story, and that is something studios look for. When discussing hiring James Gunn for Guardians of the Galaxy, Kevin Feige was asked whether there was doubt over Gunn's ability to direct, since he had only done smaller films prior. Feige said, and I'm paraphrasing, that they were more focused on getting a director who could tell a good story rather than one who knows how to do a big movie. There are specialists who can help with CGI effects and the other worrisome parts of a blockbuster. And this is something studios are looking for- they want directors who can tell a great story, and storytelling can be best proved through independent film.

So do we need more experienced directors doing blockbusters? Do we need directors who have been around the block and have more creative control and know how to handle big movies doing the summer blockbusters each year? Ultimately, no. Because those experienced directors were once inexperienced doing a big movie. Before Christopher Nolan was handed Batman, he had only done Memento and Insomnia. And because Batman Begins put him on the map, he is one of the most sought after directors in the business. Peter Jackson had only made a handful of small, low budget horror movies before he did The Lord of the Rings, and now he is an Academy Award winning director. Indie directors doing blockbusters jump start their careers. Gareth Edwards went from doing a small film in Monsters to doing Godzilla. And now he's directing Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One. Colin Trevorrow, after the success of Jurassic World, will be doing Star Wars Episode IX. Doing blockbusters turn indie directors into valuable, A-list directors, and that's really how it's always been.

Marc Webb on set The Amazing Spider-Man

It's nice when a Steven Speilberg or a Christopher Nolan does a big movie, because you know you can expect something really great. But its the indie directors, who go on to direct a big studio film, that suddenly appear on everyone's radar. We're going to be seeing names like Gareth Edwards, Colin Trevorrow, James Gunn and others more and more because their success with a blockbuster put them on the map. And sure, an indie director and a giant studio may not get along, like Trank with Fantastic Four. But that can happen with any movie, regardless of the budget. Maybe it would be better if an indie director had a few movies under their belt before they took on the franchise film, as opposed to just one movie, but they bring a unique storytelling aspect to blockbusters from their independent background. Plus, big director names aren't going to direct every blockbuster every year. You need a constant flow of new names and fresh faces. And pretty soon, the unknown that directed the biggest film of the year, will become a name Hollywood will remember forever.

What do you think? Do blockbusters need to be directed by more experienced filmmakers? Do you agree with my argument? Disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Written by: Nate 
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