It was a much different time. One where the suits knew if they wanted a successful project, they needed to trust the filmmakers to tell the story, even if they didn’t like the story themselves. No one believed in Star Wars, but George Lucas did, and he didn’t care what everyone else thought. He made the movie he wanted to make, and it went on to change the entire industry. Later, Lucas, in the executive producer role, stayed out of Spielberg’s way on Raiders of the Lost Ark, basically saying, "I’m giving you the money, just finish the thing." It turned out pretty well. Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of those once-in-a-generation films that are damn near perfection. It was movies like these and directors like Spielberg that made me dream of making movies since I was nine years old.
Unfortunately, making movies like that is no longer how Hollywood does things. Now, we live in the “Studio System Era.” The era where the suits think they know how to tell a story better than the storyteller they hired to do the job. They think directors are puppets, made to dance at their command, and if you don’t, they’ll hire some bright-eyed, bushy-tailed director who will keep his mouth closed and do what he’s told. That’s not the director’s job. A director’s job is to tell the story they envision.
Luckily, there are still a lot of great storytellers who still deliver classic-feeling movies at the cinema, with or without a beard. Michel Gondry, Danny Boyle, Guillermo Del Toro, Neill Blomkamp, Rian Johnson, Edgar Wright, and Alfonso Cuaron to name a few. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Pan’s Labyrinth, Sunshine, Trainspotting, Pacific Rim, District 9, Elysium, Brick, Looper, Brothers Bloom, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End, Children of Men, Gravity. These are the films that people will remember. Why? Because these are stories that move people.
Michel Gondry is a wizard with a camera. His use of actual set pieces and camera trickery is a breath of fresh air compared to the countless unnecessary CGI films out there. (*Note* I’m not against CGI, just against unnecesary CGI. Just as I don’t hate producers, just the back seat director ones.) Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is another one of those once-in-a-generation films I mentioned earlier. No one inspires me to be creative more than Michel Gondry.
Danny Boyle is a close second. Before Trainspotting, no one thought they could care about a guy who crawls into the dirtiest toilet in Scotland to retrieve a heroin suppository, but when Ewan McGregor’s Renton finds the magic pill at the bottom of the ocean, you couldn’t be happier for his success.
Pacific Rim is this younger generation’s Star Wars. Sitting in the theater, I remembered what it was like to be a kid again and escape into the adventures that unfolded on screen. If I were that nine-year-old kid who saw Pacific Rim, I would be inspired to make movies.
Neill Blomkamp takes the spirit of classic cinema greats like Spielberg and Lucas and adds his own style to it. District 9 blew people’s minds. Not just because it was a great story, with a character you truly empathized with, but also because the CGI served a purpose and wasn’t just there to “look cool.”
Brick and Looper showed us that there are very interesting and unique stories out there, just waiting to be shown to a mainstream audience, who, in my opinion, are getting sick of the same old story, same old song and dance. I grew up a huge film noir fan, watching classics like The Maltese Falcon constantly. The first time I saw Brick, I was stunned by how good it was at setting up a classic film noir movie in modern times.
Edgar Wright straight up creates magic with every film. Scott Pilgrim, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End. These remind us what going to the cinema is all about. Fun. Pure, unadulterated fun.
Alfonso Cuarón pushes the limits of what can be done as a filmmaker. Gravity is, literally, a breathtaking movie. I actually stopped breathing at a couple points. Gravity is the film that redefines what we can do with movies and shows what mind-blowing things can be done when 3D is used properly.
Now, thanks to Al Gore’s invention of the Internet, becoming a filmmaker and distributing your art to the world is easier than ever and will eventually make studios obsolete.
Zach Braff proved that by using Kickstarter to raise funds for his next film. His choice was met with a lot of hatred. I, for one, loved the idea. First of all, Braff put in his own money and already had another investor willing to pick up some of the tab. To raise the rest of it, he turned to his loyal following. He was upfront and honest with them about what the money was being used for and gave people good incentives to donate towards the funding of the film. It was a huge success, and now Braff is able to make the film he wanted to make, not the film the studios wanted him to make. This is such a great thing for filmmakers to have at their disposal. I don’t get why there’s so much hatred for it. If someone wants to donate five bucks in hopes to see a project from an artist they like, about a story that interests/moves them, what business is it of yours?
These are the filmmakers that are leading the charge to put the storytellers back in the driver’s seat in Hollywood, and I, for one, couldn’t be happier.