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David Poland

By David Poland

How New Directors End Up In The Studio System

This survey was originally titled “The Male Director Challenge.” You can find out why, in detail, here.

The basic idea was to answer the question being posed often these days about why so many more men are directing studio movies than women. Answers to the question, mine included, tend to be a bit off the cuff. And I would prefer to have some facts going into any serious conversation.

The standard I set for myself was any first-time major studio director with a non-animated film that ended up grossing in the Top 50 of any of the last 15 years, 1999 – 2014. This means it is, naturally, a somewhat incomplete list. But it feels to me like there is some insight here.

There are 101 people who became studio directors for the first time in the last 15 years. Some are amongst the biggest working these days… some have never made another film.

Of the 101, only 3 are women. Sharon Maguire, Phyllida Law, and Anne Fletcher.

(Why is Ava DuVernay not on this list? Selma ended up as the #61 film of 2015. That is the quirk of this survey. She is not alone. There are others who might have made the list were it not for under-#50-grossing films that were for studios in this time period, leaving them as ghosts.)

The question of how many “people of color” is a lot more complicated, as there is a good-sized chunk of non-Americans that so qualify. That said, there are only three African-Americans on this list of 101.

There are all kinds of stories about how these folks got to be studio directors and many fit into multiple categories of prior history getting there. But the biggest group by far is people who have already made independent feature films. Fourteen of the thirty-four newcomers in this group are people who came from other countries.

1999 – Notting Hill – Roger Michell
2001 – The Others – Alejandro Amenábar
2003 – Gothika – Mathieu Kassovitz
2004 – The Bourne Supremacy – Paul Greengrass
2004 – The Grudge – Takashi Shimizu
2005 – Flightplan – Robert Schwentke
2005 – The Ring Two – Hideo Nakata
2006 – The Pursuit of Happyness – Gabriele Muccino
2009 – Taken – Pierre Morel
2010 – The Tourist – Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
2011 – Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Rupert Wyatt
2012 – Safe House – Daniel Espinosa
2012 – Contraband – Baltasar Kormákur
2013 – Mama – Andy Muschietti

1999 – The Sixth Sense – M. Night Shyamalan
1999 – The Matrix – The Wachowskis
1999 – Inspector Gadget – David Kellogg
2000 – Gone in 60 Seconds – Domenic Sena
2002 – Insomnia – Christopher Nolan
2003 – American Wedding – Jesse Dylan
2003 – Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde – Charles Herman-Wurmfeld
2005 – Saw II – Darren Lynn Bousman
2005 – The Exorcism of Emily Rose – Scott Derrickson
2005 – The Family Stone – Thomas Bezucha
2006 – Nacho Libre – Jared Hess
2007 – Stomp the Yard – Sylvain White
2008 – What Happens in Vegas – Tom Vaughn
2008 – Cloverfield – Matt Reeves
2012 – The Vow – Michael Sucsy
2012 – Looper – Rian Johnson
2014 – Guardians of the Galaxy – James Gunn
2014 – Godzilla – Gareth Edwards
2014 – The Fault in our Stars – Josh Boone
2014 – 300: Rise of An Empire – Noam Murro

The next biggest group of new directors came from television roots, both here and abroad.

1999 – She’s All That – Robert Iscove
1999 – House on Haunted Hill – William Malone
2000 – Bring It On – Peyton Reed
2000 – Coyote Ugly – David McNally
2000 – Snow Day – Chris Koch
2000 – Final Destination – James Wong
2001 – Bridget Jones’ Diary – Sharon Maguire
2002 – The Santa Clause 2 – Michael Lembeck
2003 – S.W.A.T. – Clark Johnson
2005 – Sahara – Breck Eisner
2005 – White Noise – Geoffrey Sax
2006 – Borat – Larry Charles
2007 – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – David Yates
2008 – Sex and the City – Michael Patrick King
2011 – The Muppets – James Bobin
2012 – Pitch Perfect – Jason Moore
2012 – Chronicle – Josh Trank

The next group is the much-maligned Music Video/Advertising group.

2000 – The Cell – Tarsem Singh
2000 – Next Friday – Steve Carr
2000 – Shanghai Noon – Tom Dey
2001 – Behind Enemy Lines – John Moore
2002 – Barbershop – Tim Story
2003 – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Marcus Nispel
2004 – DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story – Rawson Marshall Thurber
2005 – Constantine – Francis Lawrence
2005 – The Amityville Horror – Andrew Douglas
2010 – Tron Legacy – Joseph Kosinski
2012 – Snow White and the Huntsman – Rupert Sanders

The groupings get much smaller from here.

2005 – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – Andrew Adamson
2011 – Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol – Brad Bird
2012 – 21 Jump Street – Miller & Lord
2012 – John Carter – Andrew Stanton

2006 – Eragon – Stefen Fangmeier
2008 – Journey to the Center of the Earth – Eric Brevig
2009 – G – Force – Hoyt Yeatman
2014 – Maleficent – Robert Stromberg

2001 – Legally Blonde – Robert Luketic
2008 – Four Christmases – Seth Gordon
2009 – District 9 – Neill Blomkamp
2009 – Zombieland – Ruben Fleisher
2009 – Hotel for Dogs – Thor Freudenthal

1999 – American Pie – The Weisz Brothers
2002 – Two Weeks Notice – Marc Lawrence
2004 – Along Came Polly – John Hamburg
2008 – Forgetting Sarah Marshall – Nicholas Stoller

1999 – American Beauty – Sam Mendes
2002 – Chicago – Rob Marshall
2008 – Mamma Mia! – Phyllida Law

2009 – Paranormal Activity – Oren Peli
2012 – Ted – Seth MacFarlane

2001 – American Pie 2 – J.B. Rogers
2001 – The Animal – Luke Greenfield
2002 – Jackass: The Movie – Jeff Tremaine
2006 – V for Vendetta – James McTeague
2006 – Step Up – Anne Fletcher
2007 – Blades of Glory – Josh Gordon/Will Speck

And finally,”Other Professions.” There is a top-end veteran cinematographer and writer/producers and an actor-turned-choreographer-turned-director, etc.

1999 – Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo – Mike Mitchell
2000 – Romeo Must Die – Andrzej Bartkowiak
2001 – Cats & Dogs – Lawrence Guterman
2001 – The Wedding Planner – Adam Shankman
2002 – The Time Machine – Simon Wells
2004 – Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy – Adam McKay
2007 – TMNT – Kevin Munroe
2009 – Couples Retreat – Peter Billingsley
2012 – Act of Valor – Mouse McCoy/Scott Waugh
2014 – The Maze Runner – Wes Ball

Had I included 2015 in this survey, only Elizabeth Banks would be on the list so far. And she would have to be in the “Creators” or “Other Professions” group because she got the gig after producing the original film back to life… which is not that rare for a sequel, but not often a way in to the first studio gig on an original.

8 Responses to “How New Directors End Up In The Studio System”

  1. Peter T says:

    What about Sam Taylor-Johnson? Or is Fifty Shades of Grey not a “studio” film? (Or did she direct a “studio” film before that one?)

  2. Bob Burns says:

    so, they will have to pick their directors in a different way if they want to get their heads out of their asses.

    cool study. thank you.

  3. Bulldog68 says:

    Well that was fast. Looks like Colin will be rewarded for Jurassic World with being named Director of Star Was 9.

  4. John says:

    Wow. Guess there aren’t as many opportunities for writers to direct as I once thought.

  5. robb says:

    seth gordon made a Documentary. King of kong. thats the category he should fall in.

  6. David Poland says:

    Good call, Peter T. She had directed the indie Nowhere Boy before, but that would have still put her on this list.

  7. Joshua says:

    Simon Wells should probably be listed under Animation instead of Other Professions.

  8. dangeruss says:

    wasn’t JJ Abrams first studio film Mission Impossible 3

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