Indie Directors Going Mainstream
Earlier this month "Fast & Furious" scored a surprising hit at the box office bringing in $72 million in three days. What's also surprising is that at the helm of this $80 million dollar Hollywood sequel is one time indie film darling Justin Lin. Today, "17 Again" -- the new film of Disney star Zac Efron -- opens, and in the director's chair is another independent filmmaker, Burr Steers. On the horizon we also have Gavin Hood (director of the South African Oscar winner "Tsotsi")directing the latest franchise installment of X-Men, "Wolverine," and Mark Waters (who did the dark indie film "House of Yes") helming the silly romantic comedy "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" with Matthew McConnaughey and Jennifer Garner. So this got me wondering if indie directors are going too mainstream. Or if they are just trying to get their foot in the Hollywood door so that they can make the films they truly want to make.
The success of "Fast & Furious" really gave me mixed emotions. Justin Lin went to UCSD, he scored an indie hit with "Better Luck Tomorrow," and I was thrilled to see him score a mainstream success. But I also felt sad because the film was so formulaic and impersonal. Lin also directed the third "Fast and Furious" film "Tokyo Drift," and at least that felt a bit more personal and fresh. But with the latest "Fast & Furious," Lin just proves that he can crank out Hollywood products as good as anyone else and that's not something to celebrate. I can see the appeal of working with an $80 million dollar budget and getting to blow things up, but the film is hollow compared to Lin's independent work.
Burr Steers directed "17 Again." He won acclaim for "Igby Goes Down," which displayed a savage wit in a coming of age tale. Like Lin, he's now working with something entirely formulaic; it's clearly a Hollywood product meant to showcase Zac Efron. Listen to the two clips in the audio post, the first is from "17 Again" and the second is from "Igby Goes Down." You can hear the difference between the predictable sitcom cadence of "17 Again" and the bite and originality of "Igby Goes Down."
I know it's difficult to be innovative within the Hollywood system -- you have a bunch of intimidating suits looking over your shoulder and counting money. An independent filmmaker has less money, but more freedom. So I hope these filmmakers are making these Hollywood films as a means to an end; a way to eventually win Hollywood support for a project that will allow a more personal vision to come through.
It seems like more and more young filmmakers are using their indie hits as calling cards for entrée into Hollywood, and that's what people like Spielberg and Lucas did back in the 70s. But I'd love to see more people like Guillermo Del Toro, who manages to straddle the line between indie and mainstream. He makes Hollywood films like "Hellboy," and then goes and makes "Pan's Labyrinth." Plus, he lets his own personality come through, even in the mainstream films. He pulls some arthouse crowds into mall theaters, and some mainstreamers into the arthouses. As for Burr Steers and Justin Lin, it remains to be seen if these Hollywood films are a means to something else or if the pair have simply sold out.
"17 Again" opens tomorrow throughout San Diego. "Fast and Furious" is currently in theaters.