Sean Baker, director
Sean Baker
Sean Baker
Premiering at the SXSW last summer, "Starlet" became an unexpected micro-budgeted indie treat. While the film marks Sean Baker’s fourth feature, after “Four Letter Words,” “Take Out” and the acclaimed “Prince of Broadway,” it was his latest that brought him the most attention. Following a model with a secret who befriends a cranky octogenarian woman she meets at a yard sale, the story is about as original and unexpected as American independent cinema comes. Well shot, and capturing a terrific introspective mood through smart use of music and visuals, Baker illustrates that he already has a strong grasp of cinematic language. And then there's the performances. Both stars Dree Hemingway and Besedka Johnson -- the former who we featured on our Breakthrough Performances Of 2012 list -- are both relative unknowns (Johnson had never acted before) but you'd never know that from "Starlet." Baker’s had brushes with the mainstream in the past -- he was the co-creator of the MTV puppet show “Greg The Bunny,” and its spin-off show “Warren The Ape,” but we don’t know if he’ll be going back to that type of work at this point -- he seems utterly comfortable making films like “Starlet,” and we’re happy for him to be there.

Ryan Coogler (small)
Ryan Coogler
When 22-year-old Oscar Grant was killed by a policeman on New Year's Day 2009, Ryan Coogler, then a 22-year-old USC film student, was only a few miles away in Oakland. Four years later, he was at Sundance with his feature film debut "Fruitvale," which tells the story of Grant's last day, and the film was one of the most celebrated of the festival, winning strong reviews, and is the rare film in Park City to win both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award. Furthermore, it was picked up by The Weinstein Company, who seem to have awards plans for it, setting it for a prime October release date. Coogler's film school work, including shorts “Locks,” “Gap” and the DGA Prize-winning “Fig,” won him a meeting with Forest Whitaker and his Significant Productions shingle, and when he pitched the idea of a film based on Grant's murder, Whitaker agreed to produce it on the spot. Once Coogler graduated in 2011, he set to work, and thanks to development help from the Sundance Labs, shot the film, which stars Michael B. Jordan as Grant, last summer. Coogler will undoubtedly be tied up with promotion of the film for much of the next 12 months, but he told EW that he “can’t wait to get cracking” on his next project, and we’re sure he’ll have no shortage of suitors. He’s also clearly a bit of a polymath, as he’s also working on a comic book and a young adult novel.

Welcome To The Punch Eran Creevy
Eran Creevy
Take it from someone who's done it; every production assistant (or runner, as the job is known in the UK) dreams -- while they're taking the coffee orders and being sent halfway across town to pick up fake blood -- of being in charge before too long. But Eran Creevy (who fell in love with film thanks to his dad, who owned a video shop) has managed to make that leap in remarkably fast time, and is quickly establishing himself as one of Britain's most impressive directorial talents, with two very different, but equally impressive, features so far. Only a decade ago, Creevy was working as a runner and assistant director on films like "Layer Cake," "Wimbledon" and Danny Boyle's "Millions," before serving as Woody Allen's assistant on the set of "Scoop." But at the same time, he was working at breaking into the music video world, honing his skills on tracks for UK hip-hop artists like Asher D and Sway, before graduating to dance acts, winning a UK Music Video Award for his promo for Utah Saints' "Something Good '08." After getting a foothold in the commercials world for the likes of Nike and Carlsberg, Creevy (with producing partners Ben Pugh and Rory Aitken) moved into features with "Shifty," one of the first beneficiaries of the UK Film Council's scheme Microwave, which was set up to finance films with budgets of less than £100,000. The story of Chris (Daniel Mays), who returns home to find his drug dealing childhood friend (Riz Ahmed) in dire straits, the film is a much more soulful and nuanced film that you'd expect from someone who came up through the music video world, with terrific performances and a smart script, yet also a level of technical accomplishment that elevated it above similar kitchen-sink dramas. It earned Creevy a BAFTA nomination for Best Newcomer (though he was beat by Duncan Jones for the win), and brought him to the attention of Ridley Scott, who snapped up Creevy's second film. And it proved to be something very different. "Welcome To The Punch," which opened in the U.S. yesterday, is a slick, gorgeous-looking action-thriller with an all-star cast led by James McAvoy, Mark Strong and Andrea Riseborough. It's stylish and hugely entertaining stuff, even if the screenplay's not as strong as "Shifty," and it is likely to serve as the same kind of calling card that "Following," "The Escapist" and "The Disapperance Of Alice Creed" proved to be for Christopher Nolan, Rupert Wyatt and J. Blakeson resepectively. Creevy's sticking with action territory for "Autobahn" in the near future, but also has thrillers "Cry Havoc" and "Fear of Violence" developing, as well as a possible 'Punch' sequel called "The Hong Kong Sector."