Sunday, 20 June 2010

Dramatic Times for Directors

Times are tough for everyone in the UK. George Osborne's new budget to be announced on Tuesday 22nd June will no doubt deliver job losses, or massive pay cuts for those lucky enough to hold on to their jobs. Even the British Film Institute's new film centre on the South Bank was informed that the government will withdraw £45 million of funding for the scheme.

If you thought times were hard here then spare a thought for the multitudes of seasoned filmmakers in Hollywood who are finding it even tougher to make ends meet. Tatiana Siegel's article in yesterday's Variety was a fascinating account of how the economic crunch has unsteadied the stock value of the most powerhouse directors in Hollywood. Despite having directed TWILIGHT, Warner Bros. demanded Catherine Hardwicke curb her previous asking price for directing next year's fantasy drama THE GIRL WITH THE RED RIDING HOOD. Similarly, Ridley Scott is no longer able to command his $10 million directing fee and McG was forced to slash his $8 million quote to a palatably $4 million for directing 20th Century Fox's 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. (Fox surprisingly eschewed McG in favour of hiring David Fincher who insisted on maintaining his $10 million quote.) Top directors who were once relentlessly sought after are finding themselves having to audition for directing jobs as can be seen by Adam Shankman, Timur Bekmambetov and Sam Raimi who all made formal presentations to Disney executives in an effort to land OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. In recent weeks, numerous directors have been chasing a handful of open directing assignments: WOLVERINE 2 at 20th Century Fox, THE HOBBIT and FINAL DESTINATION 5 at New Line Cinema, an UNTITLED JACK RYAN project at Paramount, GHOST RIDER 2 at Columbia Pictures, THE BOURNE LEGACY at Universal, and ALL YOU NEED IS KILL, CLASH OF THE TITANS 2, GODZILLA and SNABBA CASH at Warner Bros.

As salaries and job opportunities decrease, the amount of time required to make special effects heavy blockbusters is actually increasing, further reducing the earning power of directors as they tend to have to spend much more time shepherding these types of films. The studios are now in a position where they're increasingly squeezing out established directors in favour of fresh directing talent who command more reasonable fees in the $200,000-$250,000 range. A great example is Sony entrusting its proposed rebooting of the Spider-Man franchise to music video director Marc Webb, who will earn roughly $9 million less than what Sam Raimi made on SPIDER-MAN 3. Likewise, Warner Bros. has hired first-time director Jason Winer for its ARTHUR remake, yet still paid out for a top cast that includes Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Garner and Nick Nolte. New Line Cinema handed the reins of JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH 2 to relative newcomer Brad Peyton, who beat out original director Eric Brevig. Likewise, the New Line also declined to put a more recognised director on FINAL DESTINATION 5 and instead hired Steven Quale, the second-unit director for Avatar.

So I guess we should all be humbled by the strife of (up until now) overpaid movie directors who are struggling to keep their heads above water like the rest of us. A part of me likes the idea of a fresher breed of filmmakers infusing stale studio product with a more daring spin, but this ain't the 1970s when the basic economy of the studios collapsed and radical filmmakers like Frances Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, et al began to emerge. That recessionary period of 1972-1973 saw studios also cut back on projects and become more willing to take chances on cheaper, as-yet-unproven, directors. The playing-field is more different now and studios know what product they want and are willing to bet on a rookie as long as he/ she's willing to give them big-brand movies for mass consumption at less cost. The new class of feature film directors also seems more eager to please studio executives by actually creating fleshed-out presentations in order to get gigs. Sony hired Harald Zwart over Thomas Carter for its KARATE KID reboot because he had a presentation that included a hand-crafted model of key set pieces. Brad Peyton's presentation for JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH 2 included an elaborate presentation rendered in 3D. Similarly, South African helmer Jonathan Liebesman compensated for a short resume by spending months on a computer to create a key scene from Sony's big-budget sci-fi epic BATTLE: LOS ANGELES. It's a rare case where energy and enthusiasm is perhaps being taken as a serious virtue by Hollywood. Whether the eventual movies being formed in this exciting phase are any good is a more questionable debate.

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