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by Ziyad Saadi
March 25, 2014 12:27 PM
16 Comments
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10 Directors Who Went from Indie Film to Studio Blockbuster (Part 1)

Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield on the set of "The Amazing Spider-Man"

With big-budget studio films like "Ride Along" and "Divergent" starting the year off with a bang, one might be surprised to learn that the directors behind these films started out in the independent film world. But aspiring filmmakers striving to become the next Spielberg can take comfort in the fact that this is a much more common trend than one might expect. We've decided to a compile a list of studio films coming out in 2014 with large budgets and larger-than-life movie stars to fulfill their respective filmmakers' dreams -- ones they may not have ever imagined when climbing their way up from their indie film roots.

A notable aspect of the list is the unfortunate lack of diversity, particularly when it comes to female directors ("Monster" director Patty Jenkins was supposed to direct "Thor 2," but it looks like it'll be a while before we see anything of the sort).

Check out the first of three lists below. (Check back later in the week for the remaining lists.)

Director: Noam Murro
Studio Project That Came Out In 2014: "300: Rise of an Empire"
Indie Background: "Smart People"
About The Director:  Murro's sole feature film directing credit came from Miramax's box-office and critical flop "Smart People," which flaunted a slew of notable actors including Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker and Ellen Page (coming off her Oscar nomination for "Juno") in 2008. But aside from that and a TV short for HBO, the director hasn't had much to slap onto his resume before managing to get a hold of the coveted "300" sequel for Warner Bros. It must've been quite a TV short, because the first film, directed by Zack Snyder, racked up a domestic gross of over $200 million dollars, making him a go-to studio director.

Director: Neil Burger
Studio Project That Came Out In 2014: "Divergent"
Indie Background: "Interview with the Assassin"
About the Director: Though Neil Burger doesn't have too many feature directing credits to his name, his past work has demonstrated an impressive versatility. His career started out with a micro-budget conspiracy drama about JFK entitled "Interview with the Assassin" that, despite its overdone premise, gave him enough acclaim to take on the 2006 suspense drama "The Illusionist" (starring Edward Norton and Jessica Biel), the post-war drama "The Lucky Ones" (starring Rachel McAdams and Tim Robbins) and the action flick "Limitless" (starring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro). As a result, "Divergent," which takes him into previously uncharted science-fiction territory, is fully expected to succeed (and is already off to a winning start at the domestic box office).

Darren Aronofsky

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Studio Project Coming Out in 2014: "Noah" (Release Date: March 28)
Indie Background: "Pi," "Requiem for a Dream," "The Wrestler"
About the Director: Darren Aronofsky has never been known to make the most easily accessible films throughout his career. Ranging from drug addiction to psychosis, his themes are often difficult for mainstream audiences to swallow. That's perhaps why he's been working in the indie film world. But with "Black Swan" managing to boost him over the $100 million box-office mark, Aronofsky has gained much more credit as a financially lucrative director -- "Noah," starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly, is undoubtedly his biggest film to date.

Director: David Ayers
Studio Project Coming Out in 2014: "Sabotage" (Release Date: March 28)
Indie Background: "Harsh Times"
About the Director: In his upcoming "Sabotage," David Ayers may have kept the tough, gritty, violence-related spirit of his 2005 "Harsh Times" starring Christian Bale, but he's brought it to a much grander scale. Bringing in James Cameron alums Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sam Worthington and infusing the story with the kind of action only a Schwarzenegger flick could bring, Ayers has certainly nailed down the commercial elements that have proved to be box office gold in the past. Whether the artistic merit of "Harsh Times" has been preserved or improved, however, remains to be seen.

Director: Wally Pfister
Studio Project Coming Out in 2014: "Transcendence" (Release Date: April 17)
Indie Background: "Memento" (as DP)
About the Director: "Transcendence," a science-fiction flick starring Johnny Depp as a terminally ill scientist, marks Wally Pfister's directorial debut. But before making the leap into the world of big-budget studio films, Pfister worked his way up from a vast number of independent projects in the role of cinematographer. His most notable indie film work comes from his long-standing relationship with Christopher Nolan on his sophomore directing effort, the upside-down-sideways suspense thriller "Memento" starring Guy Pearce. The result paid off handsomely, with Pfister ending up as the DP for all of Nolan's commercially successful films and winning an Oscar for "Inception."

16 Comments

  • YOOOO HAHA WHAT | March 26, 2014 2:51 AMReply

    This is an interesting article but here is my personal "NW film student" opinion on the 10 directors listed -

    Noam Murro - 'Smart People' was a pretty lame film that tried to build off the even lamer American "indie" rebirth of the mid 2000s that was nothing but people trying to imitate the god awful 'Juno.'

    Neil Burger - Divergent is a YA adaptation meaning this guy must not have too many artistic dreams because that's pretty much just giving up. 'The Illusionist' isn't complete garbage so I guess he isn't that bad, but still a sell-out.

    Darren Aronofsy - Great director. 'The Wrestler' is an American classic, although I'm laughing because all of his films are so well known regardless of their "indie" status that I can't really consider them being "indie" given the films I watch? Noah is supposedly a very Aronofsky-ian re-imagining of the story as well so if anything its the least blockbuster film on the list considering how much he fought Paramount over artistic integrity concerning the film.

    David Ayers - Hahahaha, 'Harsh Times' is only an "indie" film because it has Christian Bale playing a bad tempered, drug addict, white cop that sports a tough guy Latino accent. It's also a bad film overall.

    Wally Pfister - This dude did the cinematography on all the Batman films how is he just now, "going to a studio?" Hahaha.

    Nick Casavettes - This guy is the son of Gena Rowlands & John Cassavetes (Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Faces, Woman Under the Influence) who basically INVENTED the American independent feature and Nick has made nothing but films that soil what the American independent feature is and film as a whole. I mean, he made The Notebook & My Sister's Keeper. His main filmmaking tool is melodramatic manipulation. This guy is a loser and his sister Xan Cassavetes makes way better features than he does and her last one was a vampire film that felt and looked like a fashion magazine.

    Marc Webb - I hate '(500) Days of Summer' and 'The Amazing Spider-Man' ruined Andrew Garfield for me so this guy can go to the cemetery next after the studio for all I care.

    Jon Favreau - HAHAHAHAHA WHAT. This guy just directed "Iron Man" and "Iron Man 2" and they're saying that his recently critically dismissed "Chef" is more of a "studio" film than those? I hate lists like these.

    Frank Coraci - I've never heard of this guy and I just looked him up and the film he's releasing this year is an Adam Sandler film. Before that he also directed "Zookeeper" and "Here Comes the Boom" with Kevin James, so I'm really glad IndieWire included this guy when picking 10 directors to represent the bridge between American independent and studio filmmaking!!!


    Bryan Singer - Okay, yet again. This guy has made two other X-Men films, a Superman film, that stupid Tom Cruise thriller where he tries to kill Hitler but you already know Hitler wasn't assassinated so it's boring anyway film.

    Basically, how do ANY of these people - with the exception of Aronofsky - represent independent filmmaking in the slightest? Oof. I know, they had to make the leap to "studio filmmaking" but in that case just don't make a list like this so people don't confuse the two.

  • mirv | March 25, 2014 9:47 PMReply

    "Limitless"--an action movie?

  • Sylvia | March 25, 2014 8:18 PMReply

    Pathetic that 10 out of 10 of these indie filmmakers who were offered that glorious big break are all men. Clearly the award-winning female filmmakers of equal or better talent will not equally be given that open door of opportunity.

  • Alex Williams | March 25, 2014 7:09 PMReply

    What about Gareth Edwards? He went from Monsters and is soon releasing Godzilla! Massive step up! Good for him though, monsters was great!

  • Indiewire | March 26, 2014 10:59 AM

    This is the first of three lists!!

  • Wallard | March 25, 2014 6:19 PMReply

    Wally Pfister was never an indie filmmaker, so I don't know why he's on this list. He's a DP who was given a chance on a big budget movie.

  • NotImpressed | March 25, 2014 6:09 PMReply

    I don't watch blockbuster films...couldn't care less whether white guys make them or disabled, immigrant transgendered environmentalists.

  • DM | March 25, 2014 6:01 PMReply

    No women, not a shock.

  • Laurie Kirby | March 25, 2014 5:59 PMReply

    They never dreamed of this? I think that's what all directors dream of...but can only achieve if a white male.

  • Dan Mirvish | March 25, 2014 4:37 PMReply

    Nice list, but don't forget Slamdance Film Fest alumni whose subsequent films have had a worldwide gross of $10.618 BILLION. Folks like Joe & Anthony Russo (Pieces to Captain America: Winter Soldier), Christopher Nolan (Following to Dark Knight), Mark Forster (Loungers to World War Z), Mike Mitchell (Herd to Shrek the Fourth), Seth Gordon (King of Kong to Identity Thief). For more, read my piece "Slamdance’s Big Footprint in Hollywood: First-time Directors Have Grossed $10.618 Billion" at Filmmaker Mag.

  • fraise | March 25, 2014 2:02 PMReply

    "But aside from that and a TV short for HBO, the director hasn't had much to slap onto his resume before managing to get a hold of the coveted "300" sequel for Warner Bros."

    Dude, Noam Murro is one of the biggest commercial directors in the world today for the biggest agencies and brands.

  • LK | March 25, 2014 1:45 PMReply

    Um, doesn't almost every director follow this path?

  • Jamie | March 25, 2014 1:19 PMReply

    Pretty bleak and narrow period in film. :-(
    White guys seem to have the freedom to tell any person's story regardless of gender or race in studio films.

  • Sara | March 25, 2014 12:42 PMReply

    I didn't think there would be any women on this list, of course there aren't any women. Hollywood is a depressing mess where only about where it means more to be a white guy than it does to be talented.

  • Wallard | March 25, 2014 6:21 PM

    Why need Hollywood then? Do what Tyler Perry does and ignore Hollywood until they can't afford to ignore you.

  • LC | March 25, 2014 12:39 PMReply

    Sad to see not one woman made this list. I guess that´s sexist Hollywood for ya.