“Economics”: the subject of many wishy-washy political debates, the scariest subject in 11th grade, and the factor that pushes movie directors to get creative. In Hollywood, making films is a numbers game, a challenge that influences the casting, the script, the look and feel, and well-trimmed end product. On one hand, having a boatload of money for every project seems like a logical desire, but sometimes the pressure of making a smaller project invigorates a director and his team in the best of ways.
After helming the big budget remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) returned to his roots for the indie horror flick Sinister, which arrives in theaters on Oct. 12. While it may not sport the special effects budget that can make a swirling sphere spaceship land in the middle of Central Park, Derrickson squeezes every ounce of fear from every frame of the Ethan Hawke-led haunted house tale. It’s economical — and scary as all hell.
Derrickson will surely return to the world of blockbusters, but his wise decision to further explore independent filmmaking feels evolutionary. It’s not a step backwards, but a challenge that pays off fruitfully. And he’s not the only one who sees the advantage of dabbling in both sides of the budgetary line. Like Derrickson, here are five directors who are playing in every sandbox in hopes of making great films:
The prime example of a director who continually goes back to the independent well, Soderbergh found mainstream success with the Ocean’s 11 franchise but never lost his penchant for helming smaller fiction films (The Girlfriend Experience) or documentaries (And Everything Is Fine). This year, the sticking-to-his-guns sensibilities finally paid off: his reasonably-budgeted male exotic dancer flick Magic Mike blew up at the box office and rivaled the summer’s major blockbusters.
After three consecutive Spider-Man films, the Evil Dead director went back to his horror roots with the low-budget Drag Me to Hell, which played directly to the hearts of his devout fans. Before taking the superhero franchise, he made a similar move, transitioning from genre fare and the sports flick For the Love of the Game to indie supernatural drama The Gift. Raimi continues to work as a producer for low-budget genre movies while tackling bigger pictures (his next is OZ: The Great and Powerful) and he’ll most likely return to the world of horror soon: the director recently teased that he’s writing a new horror movie with his brother that he plans to shoot after OZ.
All through the late ’80s and ’90s, Bigelow established herself as the go-to female action director in Hollywood. Movies like Point Break, Near Dark, and K-19: The Widowmaker earned her cred as a creative who could tackle the same material as her male counterparts. Then she made a surprise move that would earn her even more respect and, eventually, the first Best Picture Oscar ever awarded to a woman: The Hurt Locker was made for chump change compared to most war movies, but the small budget went a long way when Bigelow headed to the Middle East with her crew and cast of relative unknowns (led by Jeremy Renner) and a vision for one of the most visceral films in years.
What kind of filmmaker is Verbinski? Does he direct comedies? Dramas? Horror? Action movies? The Pirates of the Caribbean director has never let a genre define him, picking projects that allow him to show off his moviemaking prowess without adhering to the strict “rules” of certain said genres. Most shocking was the move Verbinski made after Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl became a massive success. Instead of hopping straight into sequels (which he eventually did a few years later), Verbinski followed Jack Sparrow’s first adventure with The Weather Man, a dark existential crisis comedy starring Nicolas Cage. Approximately 1% of the Pirates audience actually saw the movie, but it was Verbinski showing off his character skills — an asset to keeping major blockbusters like Pirates grounded.
While his big screen treatment of Serenity wasn’t the most successful blockbuster, it did establish the TV-centric Whedon as a director who could take on large-scale action movies. He eventually returned to that world, helming the number two movie of all time, The Avengers, but not before returning to the indie world with the web series Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and setting up a micro-budget production company Bellwether Pictures that would develop smaller movies on the side. Sometime between finishing The Avengers and promoting the heck out to the movie, Whedon squeezed in an adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing that he shot at his house. It’s like staying in film school for the run of his career.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Summit Entertainment]
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