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Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris Resurfacing Makes Us Ask: What Happened To These Five Directors?

The Playlist By Edward Davis | The Playlist May 25, 2011 at 7:35AM

So after a five year absence, "Little Miss Sunshine" directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris are returning with "He Loves Me Not," a whimsical-sounding project -- described as a mix of “Adaptation” and “Weird Science" -- written by actress Zoe Kazan that will star herself, her boyfriend Paul Dano and possibly Jeff Bridges if all goes well. This morning, Fox Searchlight announced it had picked up the picture and it would shoot later this summer. Finally!
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So after a five year absence, "Little Miss Sunshine" directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris are returning with "He Loves Me Not," a whimsical-sounding project -- described as a mix of “Adaptation” and “Weird Science" -- written by actress Zoe Kazan that will star herself, her boyfriend Paul Dano and possibly Jeff Bridges if all goes well. This morning, Fox Searchlight announced it had picked up the picture and it would shoot later this summer. Finally!

Rewinding the tape a little bit, earlier this year it was reported that James Franco may or may not be directing an adaptation of "Blood Meridian" which seemed to be news to producer Scott Rudin (he owns the rights and it appears that Franco's take on it was unsolicited). What we were more concerned with was: what did this mean for Todd Field? Director of two great little dramas, "In the Bedroom" and "Little Children," the actor/filmmaker had been developing the aforementioned bleak and bloody Cormac McCarthy novel for what felt like ages. Both stories made us think of Field, Dayton/Faris and a host of other directors who haven't made a film in years for one reason or another. So here's five filmmakers who haven't made a feature-length film in over five years, some of the reasons why, and what they are cooking up next.

Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Time Away From The Game: Going on five. They haven't made a feature since "Little Miss Sunshine," 2006.
The Brief:: Two years after Fox Searchlight made Oscar contenders out of indie dramas and blossoming indie filmmakers ("Sideways" started it all for them), the company did it again with "Little Miss Sunshine," this time earning four nominations for this story about a quirky family on a beauty-paegant-for-kids roadtrip. Directed by music video veterans Dayton and Faris (who swept up at the 1996 MTV Music Video Awards for the Smashing Pumpkins' "Tonight Tonight" clip), their feature-length debut was a hit and the world should have been their oyster. While several opportunities did present themselves, no feature film has arrived yet and it's going on five years.
What Happened: Reps for the duo tell us their adaptation of "The Abstinence Teacher" is no longer in development (Lisa Cholodenko has been rumored, but that's not confirmed or fact yet), but still in the works is the Demetri Martin-written "Will" which is supposed to star Zach Galifianakis and Paul Rudd. We did hear mid last year that Paramount had issues with the script and went as far as killing some early location scouting plans. That was more than six months ago, so perhaps the project is in a better place now, but Rudd and Galifianakis' schedules aren't getting easier as the two continue to become larger stars. A few months ago Variety mentioned that the pair were on board the long-gestating "Used Guys" project once to be helmed by Jay Roach ("Meet the Parents"), but their reps say this is no longer the case and in fact the intel was way out of date. But either way, "He Loves Me Not" is on deck and we'll assume once it's shot this summer it'll arrive in theaters sometime in 2012. Whether you think 'Sunshine' is overrated or not (a similar second guessing happened to "Juno" once it became mainstream), there's no denying this couple is talented and we're very glad to hear they're back on the cinema landscape again.

Todd Field
Time Away From The Game: Going on five. He hasn't made a feature since "Little Children," 2006.
The Brief: A character actor who's been working since the late '80s (one of his more memorable turns is in Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut"), the 47-year-old added writer/director to his resume as far back as 1992 with lots of short films and the occasional stint for TV (Ed Zwick's "Once and Again"), but it wasn't until 2001's dark, family drama "In the Bedroom" (which was nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay) that Field truly landed as a director. Field followed that drama with another dark suburban portrait, this time with a sardonic little edge (best sarcastic use of voiceover ever? could be) called "Little Children." It earned three Oscar noms including yet another nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay (Field and the book's author Tom Perrotta). Eight Academy Award nominations after your first two feature films? Doors surely opened.
What Happened: One of the first passageways to become available was the always-keen-on-talent door of Scott Rudin, who eyed the director for an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian," a savage tale of Indian-massacring scalp hunters who fall in with a teenage runaway referred as "the kid," but only after Ridley Scott had walked away thinking the adaptation was impossible (there's a lot of killing and roadtrekking, but not a lot of plot or story in the film). Field presumably tried to crack that nut for a few years, but no film ever came. While we don't 100% know whether Field is officially off the project -- and Rudin isn't talking -- we assume regardless of James Franco taking an unsolicited crack at the film adaptation, the triple threat moved on long ago. So what's next? Two projects have popped up in the last few years, "The Creed of Violence" and "Hubris." The former is an adaptation of Boston Teran's 2009 novel which takes place in Mexico during the 1910-set Mexican Revolution, while focusing on the American intervention in the war. The latter is a gangster heist tale of retribution and revenge being written by Bobby Moresco who co-wrote "Crash" with Paul Haggis centering on the same Chicago gangster set to feature in Michael Mann’s "Big Tuna" project (but they are very different and unconnected stories -- we have major details here). Both films are set up over at Universal, but it's unclear which will come first and when either would go into production (neither is green lit yet).

Alexander Payne.
Time Away From The Game: Going on seven. Hasn't made a feature since "Sideways," 2004.
The Brief: Known for wicked and sharp satires like "Citizen Ruth" and "Election" (now a certifiable classic), Alexander Payne hit mainstream paydirt with his more humanist effort "Sideways," about two friends on a wine roadtrip through Santa Ynez Valley leading up to the lesser man's wedding. Nominated for five Oscars (including writing and directing for Payne), the picture should have been Payne's meal ticket, and in many ways it was, but that picture arrived in 2004 and there hasn't been a feature-effort since (though there was a brief short in "Paris J'Taime," some producing in between and script doctoring; he's credited on the "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry" script).
What Happened: Lots of good things. Payne struck a multi-film development deal with Fox Searchlight (the studio who birthed "Sideways"), but projects marinated for probably longer than he hoped. Searchlight bought the rights to the "The Descendents" in 2007 for the filmmaker, but the director kept a low heat to several simmering projects, one of them being an adaptation of Denis Hammill's "Fork In The Road," a dramedy/romance set in Ireland written by Kerry Williamson -- who penned Darren Aronofsky's still unproduced "Breaking the Bank" gritty, heist movie -- and it's still in development (many of Payne's films sit in his queue for years waiting for the right moment). Another was a picture about Latino life in America's Heartland called "La Vida Norteña," but it seems to have gone quiet. Payne almost mounted his most high-concept project in 2008 about a semi-futuristic world that miniaturizes people to help combat over-population, waste and global warming called "Downsizing," but the potential budget got Searchlight nervous and then went back to the drawer and recruited George Clooney for "The Descendants," which is in the can and already set to hit awards season in December (producers close to Payne's projects have told us "Downsizing" is still a project he aims to make down the road). So that will make it approximately seven years in between features. Hopefully that's not the case moving forward and it sounds like it's not. Payne has already lined up his next project and it's a father/son road drama called "Nebraska" (itself a project that was kicking around in Payne's queue since 2003). The director is looking at casting now and Casey Affleck was one of the actors circling at one point, but nothing is formalized at the moment and he's actually rewriting the script now. When we talked to the producers earlier this year, they were hoping to shoot the film this late spring or early fall, depending. The filmmaker also has an adaptation of Daniel Clowes' "Wilson" in the works that the cartoonist will also be co-writing. He's also been producing along the way and a recent project is "Keep Coming Back," which is a 2010 Black List script about an adrenaline interventionist. Let's hope there's no major waiting time in between pictures moving forward. (Extra credit: Payne was also supposed to write an untitled film inspired by Oscar Wilde's"The Picture of Dorian Gray" but this was announced back in 2000, so who knows what happened with that other than the idea being folded into his "Paris J'Taime" short.)

Jonathan Glazer
Time Away From The Game: Going on seven. Hasn't made a feature since "Birth," 2004.
The Brief: Two of the greatest films of the early aughts -- both made our best of the decade lists for 2001 and 2004 -- "Sexy Beast" and "Birth" were directed by Englishman Jonathan Glazer, known for his visually imaginative and inventive commercials (Levis, Stella Artois) and some striking and haunting music videos (Radiohead, Richard Ashcroft, UNKLE), that earned him a spot in the now-defunct Directors Label series (many of that alumnus is awol too though Anton Corjbin has done well for himself). "Sexy Beast" gave us one of Ben Kingsley's most savage performances, "Birth" introduced many of us to the great composer Alexandre Desplat and proved once again, in a good role and under a strong director, Nicole Kidman is one of our finest actresses. But "Birth" was 2004 and Glazer's barely been heard of since.
What Happened: He's been developing and developing a creepy sci-fi-ish novel called "Under the Skin" by Michel Faber about aliens who pose as humans in the English countryside and prey off of unsuspecting denizens of the region, but until recently there has been little public movement. Gemma Arterton had been quietly attached for some time, but in the fall it was announced that Scarlett Johansson had now taken on the lead role of the sexy female alien who uses her seductive charms to entrap human prey. It's a great script, another strange and icy-toned thriller-drama that's very much in Glazer's wheelhouse. Hopefully it happens, because again, Scarjo is just a tiny bit in demand and "Under the Skin" is a much smaller (and interior, think "Never Let Me Go" with a more horrific bent) film that will probably have to wait for tentpoles like "The Avengers" to finish up first.

Cameron Crowe
Time Away From The Game: Six years, but Crowe is already back and hits hard with a vengeance, returning with three films this year.
The Brief: Almost six years have gone by since Cameron Crowe disappointed his rock n' movies constituency and critics with 2006's "Elizabethtown," a picture so poor it also derailed Orlando Bloom's attempt at playing lead fiddle characters. The writing my have been on the wall with the ill-conceived idea to Americanize the Spanish sci-fi-ish mystery "Abros Los Ojos," which was never particularly good in the first place (the mediocre "Vanilla Sky" was the output). Still, the promise of beguiling pictures like "Jerry Maguire" and "Almost Famous" make us yearn for something more and give us the patience to stick around for a while longer. While no picture has arrived in six years, Crowe has kept busy, he's written a biopic of Marvin Gaye he's been trying to get off the ground, once attempted to write a Phil Spector film with Tom Cruise playing the titular loony producer and came very close to making "Deep Tiki" with Ben Stiller and Reese Witherspoon, a Hawaiian-set movie not unlike "Jerry Maguire." But funding for "Deep Tiki" fell out, the picture got delayed and everyone walked away from the project. More recently, Brad Pitt's Plan B production company allegedly hired him to pen an adaptation of two memoirs from a father and son's point of view about meth addiction. Crowe's reps declined to discuss and Plan B has reportedly moved on to another writer so there's likely nothing there either way. Crowe's next big screen project already debuted earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival. Titled "The Union," the documentary look at the making of Elton John and Leon Russell's collaborative album, "The Union," produced by T-Bone Burnett, met with decent (but not outstanding) reviews. It has no U.S. release date as of yet, but a six-minute version exists on the deluxe version of said album if you're an early-adopter completist. The first of Crowe's 2011 triple return to hit theaters of some kind will be the the 20-year Pearl Jam anniversary documentary "Pearl Jam Twenty" which will receive a September theatrical release and a TV release that follows on Friday, October 21st as part of the PBSAmerican Masters” series. Lastly, the filmmaker is finally returning to feature-length dramatic narratives with an adaptation of "We Bought a Zoo," starring Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson and Thomas Hayden Church. It sounds vaguely like a family-film and/or sweeping romance picture, but we suppose we have to give Crowe the benefit of the doubt. The picture is shooting now in California and is set for a late December 2011 release. The same date held by the vaguely-familiar "Marley & Me" in 2008, but we'll try and not hold that against it. Regardless, a six-year absence begets three films in one year? We're not complaining.

That's just a quick five. Other director's you've been missing? Vincent Gallo maybe? (though he does have something that premiered at Cannes last year). This is obviously just a quick taste and filmmakers get waylaid all the time. Just ask Terrence Malick about his years between "Days of Heaven" and "The Thin Red Line." We asked this question -- where did all our fave directors go? once back in 2008. Worth checking again, but as you'll see a lot of these filmmakers, particularly two we love -- Lynne Ramsay and Whit Stillman -- will be back later this year.

This article is related to: Cameron Crowe, Jonathan Glazer, Alexander Payne, Todd Field, Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris


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