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10 Indie Directors Who Might Be The Next Generation Of Blockbuster Filmmakers

by The Playlist Staff
June 25, 2014 1:05 PM
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Back in March, we unveiled a list of one-time indie directors, including Bryan Singer, the Wachowskis and Paul Greengrass, who suddenly made the hyperspace jump to helming blockbuster projects, along with their associated blockbuster budgets. We could equally have included such transformative modern figures as Joss Whedon, Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg (who made the jump to blockbusters by inventing them). That piece noted that this was “a trend that’s become increasingly prevalent over the last decade or so” and sketched out some of the budget boosts these filmmakers had received, as amounts often 5 or 10 times the budget of their previous films were suddenly at their disposal. Results varied, quality-wise.

But in the few months since that piece appeared, the phenomenon has gone from a trend to an epidemic, with a slew of young filmmakers being handed the keys to massive studio tentpoles on the strength of one or two interesting indie films. Gareth Edwards’ shift from tiny-budget “Monsters” to this summer’s “Godzilla” has been a well-documented case in point (and he will be directing a "Star Wars" spinoff). Edwards' isn't even the latest career to have been shot into the stratosphere through a lucky break like this. Joy abounded last week at the Playlist when we heard that Rian Johnson, of “Brick” and “Looper” (the relatively large budget of which disqualifies him from this list) was coming on board the “Star Wars” mothership.

In addition to these high profile hires, there are also a remarkable number of similar new names coming to a multiplex near you within the next few years. We've collected a list of indie filmmakers who have already penned deals to tackle big-budget studio pictures, and presumably somewhere among this crop of youngsters are the next faces whose first big-budget outing will fast-track them into the big leagues. The fact that this list is almost entirely made up of white male filmmakers does indicate that Hollywood studios have a hiring problem when it comes to gender and race, which was starkly illustrated in this infographic yesterday. 

Each of these projects will of course rise or fall on its own merits, though it’s a heartening thing to see the studios take creative risks of this kind—and all of these directors will have already run a fearsome pitching gauntlet to get the job. But since you weren’t in the room for those pitches, consider this your guide to the next generation of intense young men in charge of scarily large budgets.

Director: Colin Trevorrow
Project: “Jurassic World,” i.e. “Jurassic Park 4,” which after years of rumors and suppositions is now set for June 12, 2015, the 22nd anniversary of the original film’s release. Release dates on this thing have been pushed before, but it’s clearly on track now, with the first stills appearing recently.
What Had He Made Prior? 2012’s “Safety Not Guaranteed,” a time-travel comedy which became a happy hit at SXSW. It was his first film: since the success he has also been reported as working on a “Flight of the Navigator” remake, though it looks as if he might be scripting that without directing it.
Pros and Cons: A while ago we said that Trevorrow “initially scanned as a curious choice” for the return to Isla Nublar, and that’s still sort of true. “Safety Not Guaranteed” is a hugely appealing and inventive film, but it doesn’t scream “dinosaurs,” or “action sequences,” or “childlike sense of wonder” (except at times via Mark Duplass’ character). In fact it can occasionally seem downright jaded, but that’s Aubrey Plaza for you, and now that we think about it, isn’t she oddly reminiscent of Jeff Goldblum? Anyway. Trevorrow has seemed to be making all the right moves, with a broad new cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Judy Greer, Omar Sy, Lauren Lapkus, also Nick Robinson, the kid from “Kings of Summer,” which you’ll find discussed elsewhere on this list, and BD Wong as a legacy character (rumors continue to swirl about another, “unexpected’’ returning character, but no-one’s said it’s a human...). Spielberg, of course, is executive producing and presumably keeping a watchful eye, which might or might not be a good thing these days. One heartening thing has been Trevorrow’s approach to the constant flow of spoilers from the set, which he has spoken out against by noting that they destroy that childlike joy of surprise: “When I was a kid, you got to discover everything at once, it washed over you and blew your mind.” Increasingly, it looks like Trevorrow's heart is in the right place on this one, hopefully everything else will follow.

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Project: The “Metal Gear Solid” movie, which was announced  two years back (before Vogt-Roberts was hired, or had even released a movie): it's an adaptation of the popular and long-running (and batshit) video game series which has...a number of installments, depending on how you count them. Suffice to say, MGS5's “prologue” came out a few months ago, but the rest of the game will be out next year. Perhaps they'll take the same approach with the first reel of the movie?
What Had He Made Prior? The off-beat, slightly nuts coming-of-age indie comedy “Kings of Summer,” which we straight-up loved and raved about for a good part of last year. Before that, Vogt-Roberts' career was all about TV and internet comedy: he was one of Funny or Die's go-to directors for shorts and clips. He also has a Nick Offerman stand-up movie coming out this year, and directed the pilot for a show called “You're the Worst,” which FX picked up: the full season premières in July, and we recently posted some clips and also featured it in our Summer TV Preview.
Pros and Cons: Called it! When we included Vogt-Roberts on our "Breakout Directors of 2013" list and forecast that “he’ll likely learn to mesh comedic and drama elements in a clearer way with his follow-up effort,” what we meant was that he was destined to adapt for the screen a video-game series whose plot is like spending a week running around disused military facilities with your paranoid survivalist uncle (hey, everyone celebrates Thanksgiving in their own way). Gigantic nuclear-armed robots, cloned super-soldiers, secret committees controlling global politics, pacifist diatribes, fourth-wall-fucking surrealism, Russian psychopaths who control killer bees with their mind: the series has it all, but became famous for gameplay centered on stealth rather than fighting (and for being really, really good). In theory however, a “Metal Gear” movie could tone down the weird and be done as a Bourne/Mission Impossible knock-off, which would probably be a shame. Which, hopefully, is where Vogt-Roberts comes in: his previous work shows that he knows how to bring the crazy, and he might be the man to let a “Metal Gear” movie fly its freak (and geek) flag. On the other hand, one could have said the same about the Russo brothers, and while their “Captain American: The Winter Soldier” was pretty good, it wasn't obviously the product of comedy minds. We'll have to wait and see what he's got—and what Sony wants from him. In any case, the series is (in)famous for its immensely long cut-scenes that tell large parts of the story without actual gameplay. So most of Vogt-Roberts’ work is done for him, amirite?

Director: Josh Trank
Projects: Two, in this case: Trank is working both on a “Fantastic Four” reboot for 2015 and, we recently learned, a standalone "Star Wars" film, probably for 2018.
What Had He Made Prior? Trank's only prior film credit is “Chronicle,” 2012's subversive and impressive found footage superhero movie, which became a hit on a small budget.
Pros and Cons: Unlike some of the entries on this list, the logic is easy to see here. Make good, small superhero movie → get hired to reboot big, historically bad superhero series → profit (if you're Fox, and frightened of your “Fantastic Four” rights reverting to Marvel). Trank was undoubtedly a get for Fox, and he's since then has showed every sign of taking a fresh approach. Notably he blew the minds of neckbeards everywhere by casting the utterly great Michael B. Jordan (who's in “Chronicle”) as the Human Torch. A black Human Torch isn't actually shocking (unless you're a racist, I guess), but it is interesting to note as we did that this implies a refreshing willingness to alter canon for the sake of the movie: the casting implies that the character won't be the sister of Sue Storm, which he traditionally is. The other three quarters of the gang—Jamie Bell, Kate Mara and Miles Teller—are also all interesting actors who deserve a chance at blockbuster glory. At this distance, the “Star Wars” project is harder to judge, particularly in the blizzard of confusing rumors about which movie is what—see the Gareth Edwards bit of this list for more of that—but as we noted when he was announced, his super-short "Stabbing at Leia's" shows he loves the source material. Found footage “Star Wars,” anyone? One possible word of caution about Trank, though: he has dropped out of big projects in the past (though only to take other ones, and how much bigger does it get than “Star Wars”?). Still, post-“Chronicle” he was attached to both a “Venom” film for Sony as part of the Spider-man series, and a “Shadow of the Colossus” video game adaptation: he's now definitely exited the former, and while there's no word on the latter, it seems hard to imagine he's still on it.

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  • Whodatninja | July 22, 2014 4:14 AMReply

    Duncan Jones. He will be a huge crossover success one day.

  • Duder NME | July 20, 2014 5:37 AMReply

    Blockbuster = studio-directed film. Big budgets and suit notes are the real directors. These "next-genners" are just wishing for a voice that will never be heard. What woman wants to be constantly told what to do by a bunch of old, saggy, wrinkly, crusty, old, dingy, pale, ancient, Mumm-Ra lookin', old, creaky, dilapidated, just plain ol' old... EEEUUUUCH!... studio execs?

  • /tv/ | July 18, 2014 1:32 AMReply

    >making good movie
    pick one and only one, most films made by women are horse shit, the viewer know it and the public know it, crying racism or sexism just not gonna help if women and blacks just doesn't have the talent to make films

  • Duder NME | July 20, 2014 5:31 AM

    Pain and Gain, cuz only a woman like Michael Bay could hate women that much.

  • rebbie ratner | July 15, 2014 5:07 PMReply

    NO WOMEN on this list? What are these people, living in the 1500s? Totally unimpressive list, on that alone.

  • MC Nedelsky | July 3, 2014 10:56 PMReply

    How about a piece entitled "10 women and people of colour who should direct the next blockbusters"? It's true you're only reporting on the trends in Hollywood but this would be one way to draw attention not only to the inequalities but also draw attention to a diverse range of voices.

  • Rick | July 1, 2014 1:45 PMReply

    Can we not pretend that The Playlist is the reason for non-white and female directors getting ignored by Hollywood studio projects? Lots of misplace aggression here.

  • Jennifer | June 28, 2014 10:18 AMReply

    This is a blog at the end of the day, they need clicks, white people get clicks. As for the lack of female demographic, film is such an Old Boys Club. It's so old and decrepit at times, getting a female filmmaker through the gates is a really tough job. The revolution is coming, but good luck shifting these old rocks anytime soon! Also IndieWire has something called Women and Hollywood, have a look there for all the vagina in filmmaking you could possibly need. The playlists is clearly not your thing!

    To any aspiring, non-white, female filmmakers, just keep going, keep consistently making good shit. Ignore the media, and just keep going. Indie websites like this are hardly indie now, its very hard to make money of indie (easily) and they are all in this for the money.

    Check out forums, go to meetups, reddit - just keep going. Keep creating, keep innovating, keep laughing.

    And then to IndieWire, keep doing what your doing. White men get clicks, Blockbusters make more interesting articles, I see you don't do much clickbait in your titles, thats nice, but y'all catch on soon... "10 Movies to see in June" is cute but "Ten Movies to see in June that will make you question your very existence" is both sensational, attractive, ridiculous and bound to get 10X on your clicks! Also, stick a month on the cookies, I get that popup shit every single page, and I am not buying your shit!

  • Chris | June 28, 2014 9:56 AMReply

    Is Blockbuster Filmmaker the holy grail then? I feel a filmmaker loses too much when it gets to blockbuster stage.

    You go from Creative Vision and execution of indie to appeasing a bunch of money guys and 67yo Panelists, that have no applicable knowledge of sucessful film or in fact of the time and place they are in!

  • Counselorchick | June 26, 2014 12:31 PMReply

    Not one female to be found. Is your voice represented? Clearly only if you have a penis.

  • Mage | June 27, 2014 11:26 AM

    And a white penis at that.

    Honestly, people would rather believe in UFO's, Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster than believe racism exists.

  • Gabe Toro | June 26, 2014 12:01 AMReply

    I would be interested in reading a list of all the female and minority directors from the indie scene who are now attached to big studio movies. If anyone would provide one, I would honestly be grateful, because representation actually is important to me.

  • Duder NME | July 20, 2014 5:28 AM

    Wondering how much M Night Shyalaman spoiled the bunch with his current rotten apple movies.

  • This | June 26, 2014 2:59 PM

    Those are big studio blockbuster movies?

  • Greg Dinskisk | June 26, 2014 12:34 PM

    Uhh pretty sure this is rhetorical, but I can think of one? Maybe two? Sofia Coppola and The Little Mermaid are rumoured... Also Sarah Polley for Looking for Alaska (if that's considered a studio film)?

    Still, not a lot.

    Pablo Lairran mentioned above is one minority director...

  • THIS | June 26, 2014 12:27 PM

    This (also wonder how many people actually read).

  • lar | June 25, 2014 11:05 PMReply

    How shocking - The Playlist putting a bunch of white dudes on a list.

  • DearJeff | July 6, 2014 11:43 AM

    Dear Jeff: You're a moron. Carry on.

    And Playlist, Do better. C'mon. We get it. You're a bunch of white guys who like white guy stuff. But it doesn't hurt to stretch a little. Goodness gracious.

  • Jeff | June 26, 2014 1:33 AM

    Crying racism is the refuge of idiots. Carry on.

  • Miranda Bailey | June 25, 2014 10:56 PMReply

    Great list. Too bad it's all dudes though.

  • Helen | June 25, 2014 9:46 PMReply

    Last time I checked Pablo Larrain wasn't a white male, but I guess they all just lok the same for you guys.

  • Henson | June 25, 2014 9:06 PMReply

    I don't care what the budget is for David Michod's next film, I know I'll want to see it. Both Animal Kingdom and The Rover are astonishing works of art from a visionary filmmaker.

    Rian Johnson deserves excitement, the others you mention, not so much.

  • Thomas | June 25, 2014 6:31 PMReply


  • Knee Jerk Vagina | June 25, 2014 7:49 PM

    People commenting before they read? Yeah, the internet's NEVER like that.

  • Dave | June 25, 2014 7:32 PM

    Cmon, man, Ryan ain't a white dude! Haven't you been following instructions?

  • Alex | June 25, 2014 3:45 PMReply

    I wish there was at least one white male on this list

  • gobro | June 25, 2014 2:18 PMReply

    Not only all male, but all white male. Pretty pathetic... and I'm an aspiring white male director myself.

  • Jess | June 25, 2014 2:06 PMReply

    Really guys? You couldn't find ONE female filmmaker? Maybe you should look a bit harder, or at least say you did.

  • Read | June 25, 2014 2:18 PM

    Did you read it? It's not about finding people. It's about people who have deals in place to direct blockbusters.

  • Madeline | June 25, 2014 1:33 PMReply

    it is really sad to me that all ten of these indie turned blockbuster filmmakers are a male.

  • Hilary | June 28, 2014 6:32 AM

    Ok so don't shoot the messenger- me and the authors of this article - first up I haven't read the article - I will just bear with me here, My initial thought was exactly as Jess says - why no woman? but then on further reading I see the list covers "indie directors who have deals in place to direct blockbuster sci" so the question is WHY? Why are the only people that get these deals guys? are they just better? is the criteria wrong? or is it just the same as it ever was, those who make the decisions make decisions based on their own prejudices....

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