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Why Studios Raid Indies Like ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’ Director David Lowery, Signed to Reinvent Disney’s ‘Pete’s Dragon’

Why Studios Raid Indies Like 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints' Director David Lowery, Signed to Reinvent Disney's 'Pete's Dragon'

David Lowery, director of Sundance’s buzzy Western “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” has been tapped by Disney to co-write with his producer Toby Halbrooks a reinvention of the Mouse House’s classic family film, “Pete’s Dragon.” Reportedly it will not be a musical, as the 1977 original is, and at the moment Lowery has only been hired in a writing capacity. “Pete’s Dragon” was a live-action film
about a lonely orphan who moves to a  Maine fishing town with his often invisible–animated–
dragon pal.

This seemingly random departure from Lowery’s wheelhouse actually fits a trend of hot indie directors — often out of Sundance — being signed on for a large studio property, presumably at an appealing price. They also tend to be more malleable than their A-list brethren. Colin Trevorrow, who helmed quirky time-travel comedy “Safety Not Guaranteed,” was recently announced to direct Universal’s “Jurassic Park 4,” while James Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now,” “Smashed”) became attached to Fox 2000’s YA property “Pure” back in January. 

Marc Webb’s “Amazing Spider-Man” hit theaters this past summer, with the sequel currently filming; before those titles, the director had “(500) Days of Summer,” starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, to commend him. But for every Christopher Nolan, who swiftly moved from “Memento” to “Insomnia” to “Batman,” there’s a Darren Aronofsky or Lynne Ramsay, who abruptly left “Jane Got a Gun” just before the film was scheduled to start shooting. Some directors are not meant to give up their independence. Indie John Sayles for decades has accepted paychecks from the studios as a writer-for-hire while maintaining total control of his low-budget movies.

Multi-hyphenate Lowery has put in his 10,000 hours: he has long worked in the micro-budget indie sphere as producer, cinematographer and editor, and is in complete control as writer-director of his own films, which show style and a deft hand with actors. “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” which stars Casey Affleck, Ben Foster and Rooney Mara, was picked up by IFC during the Park City fest, and will play best for art-house crowds when it opens this August. 

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