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David Poland

By David Poland

The Male Director Challenge: 1999

On Twitter today, I ran into this Lexi Alexander tweet…

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 2.56.40 PM

I think this is certainly worth doing. So I am doing it, though I am doing it a little differently than suggested. I’m going to work through the last 15 years of the Top 50 domestic grossers of each year and look at the group of directors who were hired by the studios. I am leaving out animated films because, really, that is a different universe, hiring-wise. I am also eliminating the odd “true indie” that pops up in the Top 50 of any year, i.e. The Blair Witch Project. Obviously, those are not jobs being given out by major studios.

So… starting with 1999…

The #2 movie of 1999 was The Sixth Sense, which was M. Night Shyamalan’s first major studio film. He had made a small indie and a small film for Miramax.

The #5 movie was The Matrix, directed by the Wachowskis, who were forced to direct Bound before the studio would allow them to make the significantly budgeted Matrix.

The #13 film was American Beauty, the first film from Sam Mendes, who was a highly-respected theater director.

The #16 film was Notting Hill, directed by first-time studio director Roger Michell, who had directed two indies and as well as for television.

The #20 film was American Pie, the first film from The Weitz Brothers.

The #22 film was Inspector Gadget, directed by second-time director David Kellogg, whose pre-feature film history was doing soft-core for Playboy.

The #36 film was Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, directed by a first-timer named Mike Mitchell, who had directed some animation.

The #38 film was She’s All That, directed by Robert Iscove, a TV episodic director who was hired by Miramax.

The $45 film was Forces of Nature, directed by Bronwen Hughes, who had directed some “Kids In The Hall” episodes and Harriet The Spy for Nickelodeon.

The #50 film was The House on Haunted Hill, directed by William Malone, a first feature by a guy who had done a bunch of TV for Joel Silver’s company.

So that’s 10 newcomer opportunities in that Top 50 group. Only one was filled by a woman. Only one was filled by a person of color.

To my eyes, there are really only two really inexplicable choices amongst the 10: David Kellogg and Mike Mitchell. (And obviously, someone can explain.) Two different studios. One with a significant budget, one with a low budget.

Why would Disney allow a never-time feature director like David Kellogg whose history was with Playboy make a $90 million family film? Amazingly, the film did over $130 million worldwide, which back then was probably enough with DVD sell-thru and merchandising to make the film modestly profitable. But Kellogg would never make a feature film again.

Mike Mitchell went on to have (and is still having) a quite successful career as a live-action and animation director.

The established directors in the Top 50 in 1999 were: Lucas, Lasseter, Roach, Dugan, Summers, Marshall, Minkoff, Darabont, Apted, Beresford, Sonnenfeld, Ramis, Simon West, Burton, de Bont, Amiel, Helgeland, Minghella, Stone, Harlin, Parisot, McTiernan, Mayfield, Hyams, Noyce, Oz, Ted Demme, David O. Russell, Columbus, Hallstrom, Kubrick, Gosnell, Brian Robbins, Mandoki, Jewison, and Rupert Wainright.

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9 Responses to “The Male Director Challenge: 1999”

  1. Stella's Boy says:

    House on Haunted Hill is not William Malone’s first feature. He directed Creature in 1985 and Scared to Death in 1980.

  2. YancySkancy says:

    One woman, but also one woman trapped in a man’s body. 🙂

    Oh, and its “Weitz,” not “Weisz.”

  3. Mostly Lurking says:

    I appreciate the effort, but isn’t this overly inclusive in relation to the tweet? Instead of going through the top 50 movies of a given year for the past fifteen years, wouldn’t it address the original tweet to simply pick a certain number (10, 20?) of the top male directors and look at their pre-studio film resumes? You set aside the established directors, but it seems that these are precisely the directors to whom the tweet was referring. I do not know the context of the entire conversation, but the tweet leading off the column does not make me think that Ms. Alexander was curious about the pre-studio work of the Adam Shankmans and Robert Iscoves of the world, to name a few. Apologies if the full conversation proves me wrong. I’ll go back to lurking.

    ETA: I just noticed that you did acknowledge up front that you were doing it a little differently, but it just seems to me that what is being done is not just a little different, but an entirely different conversation.

  4. palmtree says:

    I think the initial question was about how a male director of a small indie movie suddenly gets thrown into a Hollywood blockbuster while a female director of a small indie isn’t. So I find looking at DP’s stats here gives some perspective for what is considered the minimum of prior experience needed before you get considered for a major studio film. And for how few women are included. Posting stuff about Spielberg for example is less instructive because he’s more of an outlier.

  5. Mostly Lurking says:

    Fair enough. Like I said, I was looking at the provided tweet in a vacuum without any context.

  6. YancySkancy says:

    Also, a lot of the established directors got their breaks in a different time. Didn’t Spielberg don a suit, grab a briefcase, and sneak onto the Universal lot and pretend to work there or something? That’s never going to happen again.

  7. David Poland says:

    Lurking – I think it is too easy to look at a handful of “top” directors and to see where they came from. I can do that off the top of my head and almost none of them are surprising in any way.

    If I had more time (obviously, it will take me a week or two to get to last year), I would include every studio movie. What I think the question is about is how opportunities are handed out. At least, that is the issue I see in the question.

    And just 4 years into this “study,” I am already seeing that there are surprisingly few opportunities for newcomers (as conscious as I am about the system) and that there are very few cases of new entries that are really surprising.

    Maybe it is me being pleased that I was not insane, but as I keep saying, what this is making clearer to me is the need to seed opportunity. Writing is a point of access. Commercials. Some TV directing. Music videos in the early years of this survey.

    Anyway… my plan is to do the legwork, show it year by year, and then analyze it in a piece. Hopefully it will seem less random by then.

  8. Mostly Lurking says:


    As I said, I appreciate the effort and, with the context of the motivating tweet provided by palmtree, your method is certainly on point. When just looking at opportunities for female directors, it certainly makes sense to look at the resumes of a large sampling of first-time male directors before getting their first big studio opportunity.

    I was thinking that the conversation was more along the lines of whether the purported reasons for certain women in the industry not getting the chance to direct a studio film doesn’t hold up in light of the pre-studio experiences of many of our top directors. I think that would also be interesting to look at, but understand that it’s not actually what was being discussed. In any event, thanks for taking the time to clarify.

  9. LYT says:

    David Kellogg did Vanilla Ice’s COOL AS ICE before Inspector Gadget, which was shot by Janusz Kaminski. Maybe the latter helped him out.

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