By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com May 15, 2012 at 2:33PM
Filmmaking is a young man (or woman)'s game, but no one on this list is quite as fresh-faced as British helmers Will Sharpe & Tom Kingsley, who are 25 and 26 respectively. The pair met at Cambridge University, where Kingsley was president of the famous Footlights (the legendary amateur-dramatics group whose illustrious members in the past include most of Monty Python, Peter Cook, Sacha Baron Cohen, Richard Ayoade, Julian Fellowes, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, John Oliver and Emma Thompson). After graduation, Sharpe joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, while Kingsley moved to music video direction, helming spots for the likes of Darwin Deez and Fatboy Slim. But they came back together to decamp to Japan in 2009 for the thirty-minute short "Cockroach," which led a production company to offer £50,000 to finance a feature for the duo. While funding fell through, they managed to raise half that sum to make the script they'd written titled "Black Pond," a firmly original pitch-black comedy about a decaying family accused of murder when a stranger dies at the dinner table. When it premiered at the Raindance Film Festival in London last year, it managed to get an enormous amount of attention. It's partly down to their leading man Chris Langham, the star of Armando Ianucci's "The Thick Of It," whose career had been wrecked after being convicted of downloading child pornography in 2007 (and who gives an excellent performance in the film). But the spotlight on the film was also as much because of the skills they displayed behind the camera. "Black Pond" is dextrously shot, cannily written and displays real visual invention, and it's not quite like anything you've seen in the last few years. While it only received a very limited theatrical release in the U.K., it saw the duo receive nominations at the British Independent Film Awards, the Evening Standard Film Awards and the BAFTAs, where they were up for Outstanding Debut alongside the infinitely more famous likes of Ralph Fiennes, Richard Ayoade, Joe Cornish and Paddy Considine. And when it crossed the pond to screen at SXSW, it received equally good notices, even if U.S. distribution isn't currently on the cards. Nevertheless, it's been a hell of a calling card: they've signed to WME in the U.S., and are developing their second feature with Film4 and "Extras" producer Charlie Hanson -- a take on classic novel "Candide" which Kingsley describes as "Michel Gondry crossed with 'Monsters.' We hope it will be charming and handmade but quite realistic." There's no start date on the film, but we're certainly looking forward to hearing more.
Most of the directors on this list have only a single credit to their name, and most are barely out of their twenties, if that. Alan Taylor is very much the outlier: Taylor has credits going back nearly twenty years, and three feature films under his belt. And yet, he's virtually unknown among movie fans, something that's going to change very soon when he takes charge of one of 2013's biggest movies. The 46-year-old Taylor (who like Zal Batmanglij, has a rock-star sibling -- his sister is cult 80s artist Anna Domino) got his start with "Palookaville," the underrated, sweet-natured 1995 indie crime comedy which despite a strong cast including William Forsythe, Vincent Gallo and Frances McDormand was overshadowed by the somewhat similar "Bottle Rocket." Two decent but little-seen features would follow over the next few years: 2001's Napoleon biopic "The Emperor's New Clothes" and 2003's Joel Rose adaptation "Kill The Poor," but it was on the small screen that Taylor has had the most success, and particularly with HBO. His first credit was on a 1993 episode of "Homicide: Life on the Street," and Taylor would go on to helm six further episodes of that show, as well as 2 on "Oz." Over the decade in which HBO came to dominate TV drama, Taylor has worked on virtually every one of their key shows, with credits on "Sex and the City," "Six Feet Under," "Deadwood," "Carnivale," "In Treatment," "Big Love," "Boardwalk Empire" and "The Sopranos," winning an Emmy for his helming of a final-season episode of the latter, "Kennedy and Heidi" (*spoiler* the one where Tony suffocates Christopher after their car accident). He's also racked up credits on most of the other key drama shows around, including directing the pilot for "Mad Men." Despite all of that, it's the last couple of years that have really seen him gain attention, thanks to his work on "Game of Thrones." Taylor directed the final two episodes of the first season of HBO's smash-hit fantasy series, and has been an executive producer on the second season, as well as helming four episodes (1, 2, 8 and 10, as it happens). And it's his excellent work on the series that landed him the job directing "Thor 2" for Marvel, which will go before cameras later in the year. It's a very smart hire, and given that Taylor's worked on some of the best TV shows of all time and displayed a consistently steady hand, it gives us hope that he'll deliver something with real drama and substance when it hits theaters in 2013.
Few films connected with an audience at Sundance this year in the way that Colin Trevorrow's "Safety Not Guaranteed" did. Based on a real life classifed ad, it follows a group of journalists (including Jake Johnson and Aubrey Plaza) investigating a man (Mark Duplass) who claims to have means to travel back in time, and is looking for a companion. The film became a bona-fide crowd-pleaser at the festival, and everywhere its played since, and could be something of a sleeper hit when it hits later in the summer. And while the film has its flaws, it marks a real calling card for Trevorrow, and should launch him into bigger and better things. Trevorrow is an NYU grad who met co-writer Derek Connolly while interning at "Saturday Night Live," and the duo soon formed a screenwriting partnership, selling a number of projects, including "Blood Brothers," "Cocked & Loaded" and "World War X" to major studios. But their feature debut was a smaller, quirkier beast, written by Connolly (solo), and put together on a relatively meager budget, and finished by the skin of its teeth in time for Sundance (indeed, the film had a different ending when originally submitted). While it falters a little towards the finish, Trevorrow for the most part does a terrific job at balancing a tricky meld of tones, all while extracting career-best performances from his cast and displaying a nifty visual sense that, unlike many first-time filmmakers, doesn't feel like he's showing off. It's unclear what Trevorrow has planned, but a recent Sundance London Q&A suggested that he's not planning on jumping on the first studio rom-com that comes calling: "I've been a screenwriter in the Hollywood studio system for a while now, and I'm very familiar with how long it takes to put a larger studio picture together. So I'm certainly motivated to find ways to make my next film outside of that system, even if it does have a larger budget. Even if some day, I'm lucky enough to be given tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, I think the number one goal is to keep these movies honest and good."