I took up filmmaking later on in life than some, having worked in professional football then in sports operations for my career beforehand. There were a lot of reasons for the change, none of which I’ll bore you with here.
Suffice to say that my goal in film is to become a writer-director. Writing has always been something I enjoyed, particularly narrative fiction and storytelling generally. After writing a few scripts, I quickly realized a couple of (pretty obvious) things.
First, there are probably millions of script floating around looking for people to make them. With the average length of over 100 pages, the chances of anyone with the means to make a film actually taking an hour or two to read a script is next to impossible. Therefore, if I could come up with a quicker way to show my ideas to people the more likely my ideas would get across. Since we’re talking film, then why not make, you know, films?
This led me to my second conclusion: the best way to have your ideas come across on film is to actually make the films yourself. That’s where the director part comes from.
When I was in college, I read this piece about Charley Casserly, who was the General Manager of the Washington Redskins at the time. Over the course of the piece, it talked about how Casserly had started at the Redskins as an unpaid intern. He got that opportunity by hanging out in the parking lot and annoying (I think?) Bobby Beathard until the latter gave the young Casserly a shot. That gave me the inspiration to pursue my career as a professional football scout (and I got lucky enough to tell that story to Casserly a couple of years ago).
After I decided to make the move to film, I looked carefully at the films I enjoyed the most, looking for writer-directors to inspire my work much the same way that Casserly did for me with football years ago. Here are the five I came up with (in alphabetical order):
Top Films: Super 8, Mission Impossible III, Star Trek (didn’t write)
Next Film: Star Wars Episode VII
Abrams got into film because he loves Star Wars – and now he got to write and direct a Star Wars movie, re-starting the since-ended franchise. Abrams’ style is less distinct than the other four directors listed below, but he always manages to find a strong balance between character and story, even in his action films, and even though he’s now more of a producer and director than writer with his ever-expanding Bad Robot empire.
Top Films: Before “Trilogy”, Dazed and Confused, Boyhood
Next Film: That’s What I’m Talking About
Dazed and Confused is one of the most quotable films of all-time, and it was only the second movie Linklater ever did. The Before “Trilogy” is three films, each shot nine years apart, featuring the continued relationship development of two young lovers who meet on a train in 1995, through 2013. They’re almost 100% dialogue driven (though not without some terrific European backdrops), take place in real-time and yet are quite compelling. He finally got the recognition he deserved with Boyhood this past year.
Top Films: The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Interstellar
Next Film: Not Announced Yet
Nolan crafts some visually stunning and cerebral films, including The Dark Knight trilogy, the films of which changed the face of super hero movies. But it’s Inception and Interstellar where Nolan has truly had the chance to shine. Very few people have the chance to create their own sci-fi/fantasy worlds with big budgets and without franchise potential anymore, but Nolan has gotten to do it twice in four years. His films make you think and they make money – how many writer-directors can pull that off? Inception is also probably the best film about filmmaking out there (did you know that?)
Top Films: Pulp Fiction, Inglorious Basterds, Reservoir Dogs
Next Film: The Hateful Eight
People talk about Tarantino for his violence. But not enough recognize him for his truly terrific and compelling dialogue. Take the beginning of Inglorious Basterds – that scene is one of the best written scenes in the history of film. We know the farmer is hiding the jewish family. We know that the Nazi colonel knows that the farmer is hiding them. In the hands of a lesser director, that’s a 60 second scene with a bunch of blazing guns. With Tarantino, he draws out the tension over several minutes through a give-and-take of seemingly banal small talk. He’s masterful at building the tension and then letting loose at just the right time.
Top Films: The Avengers 1&2, Firefly (TV Show), Serenity
Next Film: Not Announced Yet
Whedon comes from a family of TV writers, and made his big breakthrough with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He has a distinctive, quirky style of character and wordy dialogue patterns. Despite recent accusations to the contrary, he also believes strongly in strong, female characters. Firefly, a short-lived TV show, is my favorite all-time small screen program. The way the character came together right away was just terrific and inspiring – only one show in a million could do what they did.