What do Stranger Things and Captain America: Civil War have in common? Well, other than being the most successful releases in their respective fields this year to-date, they were also directed by two people rather than one. Even more coincidentally, they were both directed by a set of brothers. Although big names in Hollywood are usually individuals, duos have had a larger presence in cinema's history than you might expect. This can perhaps be most obviously seen with the Coen Brothers and the Lumière brothers. However, with filmmaking becoming more time-consuming, more strenuous and more demanding than ever, it does appear that the creative solution to an ever-changing industry is to have two heads, rather than one, helming a project.
Hollywood History's Unsung Duos
Duos in cinema aren't anything new. For example, contemporary genius Christopher Nolan scripted the now classic The Dark Knight and its sequel, The Dark Knight Rises, with his brother Jonathan Nolan. Furthermore, given that Chris Nolan's debut, Momento, was also adapted from a novella by the same name written by his brother, Jonathan has clearly played a big part in Chris's career. Furthermore, many argue that Nolan didn't actually direct these movies alone either. Nolan's long-time cinematographer, Wally Pfister, has been known to be so hands-on in the directing process that it could be argued Pfister was a kind of de-facto "co-director" in many of Nolan's most infamous works, including not only The Dark Knight but also Inception and the upcoming Dunkirk.
Other than the aforementioned Coen brothers, another famous sibling duo over the years have been the Wachowski siblings, who wrote and directed The Matrix, Cloud Atlas and most recently, Jupiter Ascending. Given just how many themes, ideas and motifs The Matrix had to grapple, and how new the siblings were to filmmaking, it is difficult to imagine whether it would have succeeded so tremendously without putting two minds to the task. It would also be a sign of what was to come.
Other non-related famous director/cinematographer team-ups include David Lean and Freddie Young, whose work includes Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and Ryan's Daughter, Ingmar Bergman and Sven Nykvist, who collaborated on The Virgin Spring, Through the Glass Darkly, and The Silence, and Steven Spielberg and Janusz Kamiński, who together worked on Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List.
Duos In Television Today
Despite a rich past in Hollywood duos, there is no denying that paired directing has become a lot more popular in recent years. This is at least in part due to the marked increase in expectations from pretty much all stakeholders today. Studios are ploughing millions of dollars into more projects than ever, and they expect a return on their investment. And in the age of Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb, Metacritic, video games, YouTube, cable and satellite television, Netflix and streaming, it is more difficult than ever to convince people to choose to watch your project rather than somebody else's.
As a result, your work has to be good — really good —just to get attention. It has to be accessible to the public while entertaining high-brow critics, tapping into public trends for relevance, and be at least as good as their unbelievably competitive rivals. It's not called "the golden age of television" for nothing.
Audiences no longer expect an "adequate" piece of entertainment to keep them entertained for 20 minutes. Instead, they want high-grade, pristine pieces of art — and that doesn't come easy. While this level of quality only needed to be endured for a couple of hours in the cinema, in television this level of quality has to be sustained for multiple hours every season, for multiple seasons, over many years.
Writing, directing, editing and promoting an amazing piece of television that is consistent in tone, maintains the viewers' attention, interweaves plots and character arcs and symbolizes important traits in our modern society is by no means an easy feat. And to rinse and repeat this process every year for up to 10 seasons comes close to impossible. As such, it's no wonder two directors are beginning to take the helm rather than one. This way, the burden and responsibility is shared. However, it's not only television directors that are suffering.
Duos In Cinema Today
Unfortunately, directing blockbusters isn't any easier either. With the MCU showcasing just how popular — and profitable — extended cinematic universes can be, studios are tripping over themselves trying to establish their own. Warner Bros. has the brand new DCEU and Harry Potter franchise, and a number of other large studios are trying to find their own franchises to expand. For example Disney also has Star Wars and Legendary has recently launched the Warcraft series.
Creating a film that respects the identity of the original subject material, introduces new audiences to the franchise, and tells a relevant, meaningful and entertaining standalone story of its own is hard enough. But anyone directing a film set in an extended universe has to ensure the story lines up with both past and future story and timelines, remains cohesive with the theme and tones of previous films, and that often much beloved characters don't do anything, well, out of character.
And all of this responsibility comes with a very, very high level of stress. While directing Age of Ultron for example, director Joss Whedon admitted that the film was so difficult to make that it "broke" him a little. With a back-catalog of legendary television including Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, it could've been assumed that making a mere feature-length film would be a walk in the park for Whedon. Instead, he claimed that making a film set in an extended universe was in fact far harder and he actually pined for a return back to the television medium simply because of how much easier it is.
Whedon's not alone. Helming the creation of Marvel's arch nemesis — the DCEU, was no easy feat for Zack Snyder either. A picture released a couple months ago shows a usually peppy and happy Snyder looking over-worked, tired and underfed as shown below:
It appears not even the most easy-going of directors can escape the scorn of the studios.
As such, it's not really all that surprising that creative individuals are choosing to team up when deciding on a project. The Russo brothers have taken on the mantle left by Joss Whedon with flying colors. Captain America: Civil War, otherwise unofficially quipped as The Avengers 2.5, was met with fanfare and critical acclaim, giving confidence to audiences around the globe that they are the right guys to helm the MCU's future.
The Duffer brothers appear to be leading the way in creative duos taking over the television scene also. In both cases, interviews showed that these directors were no longer admitting how strenuous making their project was, but instead once again gleamed at how fun, exciting and intriguing the process was. Sharing the burden means that you can put a project on hold when life gets in the way and know that it's still in safe hands. If you can't take that meeting because of a family emergency, or just need a break so that you're not feeling burnt out, there's always a teammate to fall back on. As a result, one of the world's most enjoyable jobs can go back to being just that — enjoyable! And that'll speak volumes on screen.
Check out what director Travis Knight had to say about working on his most recent film, Kubo and the Two Strings, in the video below:
Who do you think is the powerhouse director duo in Hollywood right now?