Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Directors: On The Cheap

One of the majorly hyped British success stories of 2010 was Gareth Edwards' Monsters, a minimalist genre piece about two travellers making their way back from an apocalyptic Mexico that's been invaded by elusive giant octopuses. Monsters was made on a budget of £500,000 and went on to gross £1.7 million internationally. It's a so-so result, though not nearly as impressive a Chris Morris' controversial but equally inexpensive Four Lions making almost £3 million at the UK box office alone.

Therefore, imagine my surprise at reading Borys Kitt scoop in last night's Hollywood Reporter that reports Gareth Edwards is closing a deal to develop and direct Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures' much anticipated Godzilla reboot.

One can't help but think that Gareth Edward's is an extremely lucky bastard. His work on Monsters won the filmmaker three British Independent Film Awards, including nods for best director, best achievement in production and best technical achievement. It also landed him work with Timur Bekmambetov on an epic sci-fi project he is developing as a directing vehicle. On the other hand, Chris Morris' Four Lions won zero awards at the same ceremony despite being a greater commercial success and more socially relevant picture.

I reported back in the summer on Tatiana Siegel's article in Variety that exposed how the economic crunch has unsteadied the stock value of the most powerhouse directors in Hollywood. In my report I commented on how Catherine Hardwicke was forced to curb her previous asking price for directing this spring's fantasy drama The Girl with the Red Riding Hood and how Ridley Scott is no longer able to command his $10 million directing fee. I reported on McG being forced to slash his $8 million quote to a palatably $4 million for directing Twentieth Century Fox's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and then Fox eschewing McG in favour of hiring David Fincher who insisted on maintaining his $10 million quote.

The tide seems to have turned in the favour of fresh filmmaking talent like Gareth Edwards. Established 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 making formal presentations to Disney executives in an effort to land Oz the Great and Powerful. Last summer, numerous directors were chasing a handful of open directing assignments like Wolverine at Twentieth Century Fox (now in the hands of Darren Aronofsky); The Hobbit at New Line Cinema/ M.G.M. (now being helmed by Peter Jackson); Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance at Columbia Pictures (now being directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor ), The Bourne Legacy at Universal (now being developed by Tony Gilroy), Wrath Of The Titans (starts filming next month under Jonathan Liebesman), and the aforementioned Gareth Edwards' Godzilla ― both projects are set up at Warner Bros.


Gareth Edwards' attachment to Godzilla perpetuates an ongoing trend in Hollywood in that 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. Marc Webb's fee for directing the currently filming Spiderman reboot will earn him roughly $9 million less than what Sam Raimi made on Spiderman 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, 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.
For all my gripes about whether Gareth Edwards is worthy enough to direct a brilliantly high-concept creature-feature like Godzilla, it does seem like a promising time for neophyte British filmmakers to score high-profile Hollywood gigs with little in the way of proven track record. British indie filmmaker Rupert Wyatt is directing Twentieth Century Fox's tentpole Rise of the Apes that will be released sometime this summer. Wyatt scored such a cool gig despite only having directed a little seen British film called The Escapist and a few sundry short films.

The closing of the UK Film Council and subsequent restructuring of how the British government will go about subsidising its national film industry has shaken home grown film talent to its core. It makes sense for debutante directors to try and land big budget American projects because these types of opportunities weren't available 5 years ago and they may not be accessible 5 years from now. A part of me likes the idea of a fresher breed of filmmakers infusing stale studio product with a more daring spin, but this isn'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 as the studios know what product they want and are willing to bet on a rookie as long as he/ she is willing to give them big-brand movies for mass consumption at less cost.

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