Fire Your Agent? 5 Directors Who May Need To Rethink Their Career Choices

Features
by Oliver Lyttelton
November 8, 2012 2:26 PM
20 Comments
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In his seminal book "Making Movies," Sidney Lumet wrote, "I've done two movies because I needed the money. I've done three because I love to work and couldn't wait anymore. Because I'm a professional, I worked as hard on those movies as on any I've done. Two of them turned out to be good and were hits." As with any freelance job, few filmmakers are in full control of their destiny -- they're at the behest of what they're offered, what they can actually get made, and, even once a film is in production, any number of factors that can make the difference between a creatively successful or creatively lacking film.

But even so, it's hard to look at the choices of some directors and feel that they're not squandering their talent somewhat with the wrong projects, the wrong picks, the wrong direction. After taking a look a few weeks ago at ten actors who need a little adjustment in their career trajectories, we've picked out five directors who've all done good work in the past, but could do with a little revaluation of where they go from here. There's plenty more where this lot came from, so if there's a filmmaker you'd like to see make some better choices in future, let us know who they are in the comments section below.

Jon Favreau

This is arguably a relative one so read before you fly off the handle, please. Few would have thought back in 1995 that the neurotically charming lead of indie hit "Swingers" -- who also wrote the movie's script -- would have turned out to be a major tentpole filmmaker down the line. By the time of the release of megahit "Iron Man" in 2008, few would have suspected that Jon Favreau, by then established better as a director than an actor, would be having the kind of difficulties he faces these days. Favreau made his directorial debut with the solid "Swingers" spiritual sequel "Made" in 2001, but soon found himself with a huge surprise hit after directing Will Ferrell smash "Elf" just two years later. The film had a ridiculous premise, but Favreau walked the line carefully, keeping it smart, charming and sweet, with inspired directorial touches like Rankin/Bass-style stop-motion animation for the visual effects elements. Fewer people saw it, but follow-up "Zathura" was almost as good, a spacebound family adventure that captures the spirit of classic Amblin family fare. And by the time that "Iron Man" was busting blocks at the box office, Favreau was firmly ensconced on the A-list. And yet things haven't been so happy since. "Iron Man 2" was allegedly beset by creative differences between Marvel and Favreau, and the results on screen sadly speak for themselves. And maybe Favreau shouldn't take the fall for that one, but the same can't be said for follow-up "Cowboys & Aliens," a silly concept done in an overly serious manner with a too-many-cooks script and a generic orange-and-teal look. Worse, the film was also a big money loser. As a result, Favreau's had problems getting other projects off the ground. Disney's "Magic Kingdomdoesn't seem to be going anywhere fast, and musical "Jersey Boys" just got put into turnaround by WB. We're not saying that Favreau isn't talented. He is and he's proven it. But as someone who shot up to the A-list so fast and so unexpectedly, he seems to be stumbling at the moment. There was a spot of brightness with J.J. Abrams-produced TV pilot "Revolution," which Favreau directed. It was not great to be frank, but it was at least a huge hit. But we can't be alone in thinking that maybe Favreau needs to take a tentpole break and go back to his "Swingers" roots for something that could reinvigorate him creatively. Failing that, maybe a big-screen collaboration with Abrams would be the answer?

Peter Berg

Actor-directors don't always have the easiest time of it, but like Jon Favreau, Peter Berg has been creeping towards the A-list over the years. The one-time "Chicago Hope" actor made his directorial debut with 1998's enjoyably mean-spirited dark comedy "Very Bad Things" (coincidentally starring Favreau), and proved to be a consistently impressive filmmaker over his next few pictures. First, with underrated Dwayne Johnson actioner "The Rundown," and more importantly with "Friday Night Lights," the 2004 football movie that numbers among one of the best sports movies ever made. The film spawned a beloved TV series which was just as good, with Berg directing the pilot, and while it was never high-rated, it's become something of a pop culture touchstone, to the extent that Mitt Romney tried to steal the "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose" slogan of the show for his presidential campaign (Berg objected strongly). 2007's "The Kingdom" wasn't quite as strong overall, but was, nevertheless, a decent thriller with some cracking action sequences and some interesting political texture to it. But like with Favreau, the lure of the tentpole seems to have been Berg's undoing. First up was 2008's "Hancock," a ludicrously uneven, tonally bonkers superhero vehicle for Will Smith. It was undoubtedly a creative failure, but we suppose kind of an interesting one, and it was at least a giant hit. The same can't be said of this year's "Battleship," easily one of the worst films of the year; a laughable, noisy, dull blockbuster actioner that's most notable for an absolute trainwreck of a script, and for Berg abandoning his own visceral action aesthetic to become a third-rate Michael Bay knock-off. Furthermore, the film lost a whole bunch of money for Universal. Berg, after the fact, admitted that the film didn't work out, saying earlier this year, "It was a movie that I tried as hard as I could to get inside of. But the concept is so big and powerful, and the money is so big and so powerful, that the movie is going to run away with itself." And follow-up "Lone Survivor," currently filming with a good cast including Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Eric Bana and Emile Hirsch, will hopefully pick things up. It's a bona-fide passion project for the director, which Universal financed in exchange for him making "Battleship." But maybe it's time for Berg to leave the gung-ho militarism alone for a while and tackle something else? Disability drama "Fathers' Day" and the mooted "Friday Night Lights" TV series-derived movie both sound like they could be the antidote.
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20 Comments

  • Michael Scully | November 13, 2012 12:44 PMReply

    It isn't "Hollywood" and it isn't the agents. Roger Donaldson, a man always forgotten when good directors are mentioned could turn coal in to a diamond. We are our own saviors. Stop talking about the motion picture business as if it were anything else than another field of battle where personal responsibility is the rule. If these men failed, they ….ed up. BTW, in the reverse, would someone mind telling me why the Iraq bomb defuser movie won anything? Also, the comments on Spielberg are true for the most part, except that Lincoln is rather good. Pompously yours, MJS

  • ali | November 10, 2012 11:22 AMReply

    I agree about M. Night Shyamalan. He needs a serious career change.

    Spielberg should stop directing and just produce.

  • Mitchell | November 9, 2012 1:45 PMReply

    Stephen Frears, M. Night Shyamalan, Rob Reiner, Lawrence Kasdan, Alex Proyas, Andrew Niccol and I think most would disagree but I wasn't a fan of "The Grey", so Joe Carnahan.

  • james | November 9, 2012 8:43 AMReply

    Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck... should fire his Hollywood agent. As should Gela Babluani, and all the other European directors who get sucked into the machine, and end up making a f*cking pudding that sinks their careers.

  • Aksel | November 9, 2012 6:44 AMReply

    Spielberg.. Definetely Spielberg.. I'm still waiting to see an interesting movie from him.. His last good effort was Schindler's List.. Just because your name is Spielberg doesn't mean you can get a free pass for all the A.I's - War Horse's (ok, maybe "Catch me if you can" can be the exception)

  • Angela | November 9, 2012 1:39 AMReply

    I agree with Spike Lee. I'd also add Jane Campion; personally, I thought The Piano was excellent, though it's definitely a movie that demands a particular taste, but since then, she really hasn't done a whole lont.

  • Jim Tushinski | November 9, 2012 5:05 PM

    Actually, Bright Star was very good and even In the Cut is worth revisiting. "Not doing a lot" is very different than making bad movies. For years Terrance Malick "didn't so a lot" or so it seemed to moviegoers.

  • YUP | November 8, 2012 8:39 PMReply

    Fernando Merielles and Dana Carvey, separated at birth?

  • George | November 8, 2012 7:17 PMReply

    Shaft 2000 remake may be a linear action thriller. It sure gave us one of many great Jeffrey Wright performances. Also had Sam Jackson foul mouth mode. I wouldn't minded a sequel

  • Marko | November 8, 2012 4:18 PMReply

    Just watch. One of these guys is going to wind up directing the new Star Wars film.

  • DJ | November 8, 2012 3:47 PMReply

    Only reason Spike Lee isn't on here is because he continues to be prolific with his output; but that's his Catch-22: in his obsession to be 'culturally' relevant, his works have become tone deaf, uneven and in some cases, like Red Hook Summer, dreadful. But he still seems to tweet a lot to retain a good chunk of loyalty from fans, so maybe he's onto something.

    And don't forget to add Kevin Smith, Hal Hartley, Jim Jarmusch (pick your decades old indie filmmaker) to the list.

  • BBBH | November 13, 2012 2:51 AM

    "Red State" is the best film Kevin Smith ever made. And although he says his next film is his last, I think that -- as is the case with all creative folk working in any medium who state "this is my last" -- it'll only be his last if he dies before he makes another one.

  • Stephen B | November 8, 2012 6:16 PM

    To be fair, Kevin Smith clearly has rethought his career choice, unfortunately, he seems to be in our lives more than ever now.

  • Pedro | November 8, 2012 2:45 PMReply

    This list ends up having really two certified talents, namely Mike Newell and Fernando Meirelles. Though "Blindness" had it's issues, it was a film that featured strong performances from Julianne Moore and Mark Rufallo (and it succeeded in building a very bleak portrait of humanity). Mike Newell's films though not achieving brilliance, have always been good showcases for the performers, even if sometimes they feel standard and uninspired ("Prince of Persia" being the more immediate case).

  • J | November 10, 2012 6:08 AM

    @Bogart - By "Mike Newell" directing Charlie Wilson's War, I'm guessing you mean Mike Nichols, who actually directed it.

  • Bogart | November 10, 2012 1:38 AM

    Sorry but everyone seems to be forgetting Charlie Wilson's War... the last great performance from Hanks, yet another superb turn from Philip Seymour Hoffman (which he was nominated for), and a cracking script by Sorkin. Mike Newell's last great film...

  • Rizzo | November 8, 2012 2:43 PMReply

    I would go with Jim Sheridan who went from directing great tales like My Left Foot, The Boxer and In America, to making that 50 Cent biopic and Dream House. That should get anyone fired.

  • MAL | November 8, 2012 3:08 PM

    Yep. Jim Sheridan is the first director that came to my mind as well. As much as I liked "My Left Foot", it was "In America" that made me think he was the real deal. What happened?

  • Francisco | November 8, 2012 2:36 PMReply

    David Gordon Green.

  • Cribbster | November 11, 2012 6:44 PM

    Disagree. Green wants to be making those movies. In fact, I would imagine he did them against the advice of his agent (if his agent is any good). That's probably over though. I would expect most of the goodwill generated by "Pineapple Express" has expired. Although "The Sitter" is a pretty standard teen comedy that any Hollywood studio would be happy to make. But Green tried to slip in some '80s style in there.

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