Friday, May 30, 2014

But what we really want them to do is DIRECT....

David Byrne's True Stories. Marlon Brando's One-Eyed Jacks. Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter. Herk Harvey's Carnival of Souls.

I'm intrigued by these movies for a number of reasons (and there are quite a few other movies like them), these one-off projects directed by non-feature-filmmakers. Of the above, Byrne and Harvey made short projects (music videos and industrial films, respectively) which led inevitably to their first features. Brando and Laughton came to directing through their acting careers, but had such problematic experiences that they never made another movie. Other actors-turned-directors have turned it into an irregular but ongoing sideline, including Ida Lupino, Jodie Foster, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, and Mel Gibson (who called his work with certain directors his film school).

But the one-off projects listed above (and still others like it, including title designer Saul Bass' ants-on-a-rampage movie Phase IV) are intriguing. One wonders if everyone in the industry really wants to direct, as the cliche has it, and if they all have a single burning project for which they'd give everything to step behind the camera. Many actors, certainly, have their eyes on such a project; our friend Becky Lea reminds us that Scarlett Johansson is hard at work on her first movie, an adaptation of Truman Capote's Summer Crossing. And writers are getting into the game too, like Roberto Orci who was pretty much always determined to step into the director's chair for Star Trek 3.

So we put the question to Twitter:

Who works in movies but has never directed a feature, that you'd like to see direct a feature?

Within seconds, seconds, of posting the question Miranda Sajdak piped up with a terrific answer: Thelma Schoonmacher, longtime editor/collaborator of Martin Scorsese. Miranda's argument that "she has a great sense for rhythm" is unassailable.

Filmmaker Bryan Enk (interviewed here a while back) picked music video director Chris Cunningham, reminding us that Cunningham's adaptation of Neuromancer was once a thing that nearly happened.

David Robson named T-Bone Burnett, arguing that between his long collaboration with the Coen brothers, his narrative/theatre work with Stephen King, and his composing credits on work like True Detective he's surely absorbed some craft.

And yet most who responded reasonably suggested actors. Paul Bullock, whose celebration of Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom offered terrific insight, said he'd "be intrigued to see what someone like Harrison Ford or Tom Cruise would do behind the camera. A big A lister." Rohan Morbey (a regular presence in these parts) also named Cruise but went further, suggesting that he'd like to see Matt Damon or Joaquin Phoenix direct something now, and Cruise helm a project in 10-15 years. Luke Owen also seconded Cruise, and also named Matt Damon, Marky Mark (though we suspect his directing credit will actually go to Mark Wahlberg), Simon Pegg, and Matthew McConaughey.

Lauren Randall initially found the question tough, thinking that everyone's she'd think of had, in fact, already directed something. She then named an incredible list of potential first-timers including Tom Hardy, Tom Waits (!!!), Michael Fassbender, Isabelle Huppert, Catherine Keener, Chris Cooper, and Viggo Mortensen, stating that "they all just have very interesting bodies of work and have worked with distinctive directors - I think that'd show."

But A-list actors were far from the only potential first-timers considered. 

Ashlee Blackwell, the founder of Graveyard Shift Sisters (a blog that all horror fans & students should read) believes that short-filmmakers Lori Bowen and Kellee Terrell have a feature (at least) in them. Bay Area cinephile Brian Darr's first instinct is "a short-form virtuoso like Georges Schwizgebel or Jeanne Liotta." 

Ohers looked to writers, with the folks at Dark Corners naming screenwriter Alan Ball as their preferred first featurer. John Warrender (who had given the question some thought even before it had been asked) suggests writer Jonathan Nolan...and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Still others went to television for their picks, including longtime Whedon collaborator Marti Noxon (suggested by our friends at Eyes Skyward) and director Caroline Champetier (an earnest advocation from Tommy Prieto).

The truth is, we'd love to see the first (or even the only) feature from any of these suggestions. One imagines that these people either have the clout to convert their status into a directing project, or at least the energy and drive to make something truly different. All of the people named above could easily become Lupino/Gibson type filmmakers who turn out multiple projects. But it's tantalizing to think of them taking a single shot at the director's chair. Who'll turn out a one-off but indisputable classic like Night of the Hunter? Or (perhaps even more tantalizingly) who'll convert their cache to make a high-energy and adorable piece of trash like Maximum Overdrive?

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