Directing In A Producer-Led Hollywood
The ultimate irony with Nolan is that for all he represents about a director running free in Hollywood and the ideology of the artist, the wave he's accidentally semi-started has just led things round to producer dominance. The other side of the hiring of green directors is that they will be easier for a studio to rein in than high flying artists who demand creative control. And you can imagine some executives thinking that's exactly what Warners got with Nolan, rather than the deft director-producer he really is.
Now before we go too deep into this, it is worth clarifying that this dichotomy is much, much bigger than one man. We're not pinning the structure of the entire studio system on Nolan, but will say all we've discussed does certainly factor into it.
Hollywood has always been producer-led, but it's become increasingly noticeable in the rise of mega-franchises and shared universes. These are such massive business enterprises they need someone removed from the graft to shepherd the big picture, but at the same time there's an eagerness to keep artistic drive front and center (an idea that definitely sounds Nolan-esque). This has proven easier said than done. The DCEU trumpeted itself as a director-led series, but repeated flubs and studio meddling on Suicide Squad and Justice League called that into question - although based on Wonder Woman and what we're hearing about Aquaman and The Batman that is shifting.
The emergent best example of this conflict is actually Star Wars. After the safe hands of J.J. Abrams (who is of course as powerful a producer as director) for The Force Awakens, Lucasfilm has tried to pluck filmmakers with verve - most have already been used as examples in this article - and roundly regretted it. We don't know details, but by all accounts Josh Trank was a time bomb and Gareth Edwards too unfocused (while Colin Trevorrow simply doesn't have momentum). The resulting films so far have been good and hype is high for those to come, a result of Kathleen Kennedy's immense experience and the talent of the Lucasfilm family, but the model clearly leads to conflict. Look at Han Solo: Phil Lord and Chris Miller are established directors in the industry who've built up their brand over time and thus their hiring on the prequel doesn't quite fit the Nolan model, but the fact they wouldn't bend the knee to Kennedy's demands is still a result of this producer-led perception shift all the same.
Conversely, the real success is Marvel Studios. There is no doubt that Kevin Feige is the mastermind of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with each director clearly working under a set of demands. And while there have been upsets along the way - Edgar Wright departed Ant-Man after seven years of development, Thor: The Dark World struggled to lock down a director and even Avengers maestro Joss Whedon was burnt out by Age of Ultron - those who've made it work are the ones who walk the line; James Gunn makes James Gunn movies within the Marvel confines. There's success here, but that's implicit in Feige's leadership; going young is mainly just a way to avoid conflict.
Nolan doesn't have to even try to play the game because he does it naturally. The real lesson to take with him isn't that indie directors can be a good fit for blockbusters or passion projects need to be big hitters; it's that great studio filmmakers can't be plucked out by any random set of rules. Trying to apply formula to hiring is as tricky as it is to the movies themselves. If you stop trying to make the new Nolan, you may just find one.
Next: Dunkirk Review
- Dunkirk (2017) release date: Jul 21, 2017