Recent years have seen a huge number of Hollywood studios opt for sequels and franchises over original films. It's always been a safe model to follow: make a billions dollars once, make it again. But with two cinematic universes blooming and countless reboots on the horizon it's starting to feel like summer theaters will be all but void of new characters for some time to come.
There is one piece to the studios puzzle that doesn't seem to fit. They are hiring independent, and sometimes remarkably new, directors to carry their money to the bank. Typically studios have stuck with high-profile and accomplished directors that they know can deliver the product their looking for on these massive projects. So, why risk a $100+ million investment on a director who hasn't been given the time to prove their talents?
The obvious answer would be money. It would be much cheaper to hire Colin Trevorrow to direct Jurassic World than it would to bring Spielberg back to the franchise he started over 20 years prior. Trevorrow had only one feature-length narrative film under his belt before he was offered the chance to reboot one of the biggest franchises in popular culture. His first film was the critically lauded time-travel comedy Safety Not Guaranteed and his move to blockbusters took him from a budget of $750,000 to $150 million. Jurassic World was a success and now Trevorrow is on to another massively beloved franchise by directing Star Wars: Episode IX as well as writing and producing the Jurassic World sequel. Expect to see plenty of him in the future.
It's not just Trevorrow, though. Rian Johnson will be tackling the next Star Wars film, picking it up where J.J. Abrams left off. Johnson has a slightly longer list of credits with three well-received films: the neo-noir Brick, the comedy The Brothers Bloom, and the sci-fi thriller Looper. All of which are worth a watch (particularly Brick and Looper), but with a combined budget of around $50 million it will still be quite a jump to Star Wars whose last film's budget was reportedly $245 million. Gareth Edwards went from the impressive $500,000 film Monsters to the $160 million 2014 film Godzilla. He will also be directing the first Star Wars spin-off Rogue One premiering at the end of this year.
While money must have been a big factor in the decision to hire an indie director, it couldn't have been the only factor. If the movie fails the studio would lose a lot more than they saved. There must be a more positive aspect to it. It would seem that the studios have listened to some critics and decided to risk their investments in hopes of upping their Tomatometer scores through the use of talented up-and-comers. Who knew that better crafted stories could immerse the audience more fully and lead to more ticket sales? Could this risk they're taking on directors lead to more risks on original films over franchises? I wouldn't get too carried away, but we can dream.
While I'm all for upping the quality of summer blockbusters, and I do enjoy a good amount of them, I'm not entirely convinced it's for the best. Indie directors getting the chance to helm these types of huge movies is great and very promising for budding filmmakers, but are we losing some exceptional and creative minds to the studio's machine? Working on a blockbuster film like Jurassic World or Star Wars is not an easy task. It could take months or years of work and with countless producers and a ton of money to make back for the studio it doesn't exactly leave you with excess creative wiggle room. Joss Whedon recently quit working on Marvel films after writing and directing the first two massively successful Avengers films citing a need to get back to creating universes rather than working in them. It's unfortunate to think we might be missing out on the creative potential of these young directors in exchange for a few decent remakes and reboots.
I admit it's not cause for all out despair and you can't blame anyone for taking the opportunity to helm a film in a franchise that is surely dear to their heart. I just hope they give themselves time to go back to their small budget, innovative roots and give us more of the original storytelling they've proven they're capable of. At least one of these directors is getting a head start. Trevorrow's $10 million drama The Book of Henry is set to be released this year.
Independent film is in a better place than ever with a plethora of distribution options on the web and an enormous expanse of talent at it's disposal. No amount of Hollywood poaching could halt the creativity and skill that independent cinema has and always will have. It's an amazing time to be an indie filmmaker, let's just hope more will use it as a way to bring us new stories and not just as a springboard to the big leagues.