Every once in a while, we get a fantastic movie made that completely knocks our socks off. How did they do it? What was so special about this particular cast and support crew that made them click, work well, and then take the vision of the script and put it onto film. Why do we see so many crappy movies made with good casts and outstanding directors? The trouble it seems, it starts with the script but ends with the director.
I consider myself a grounded movie fan. I enjoy all varisites: drama, sci-fi, westerns, documentaries, historicals, comedies, and in particular indie films from abroad. If its well made and it does its job of telling a story I find film watching an enjoyable activity. I do have high standards for films that I expect which has let me to start investigating how are films successful.
Take a movie like Star Wars. Written and directed by George Lucas. His vision was easily captured as the director because he wrote it. In addition, John Williams musical score, casting directors, sound editors, and finally the brilliant editing from T.M. Christopher and Paul Hirsch. George had a hand in every aspect here to ensure his vision was captured and then transferred to film. But was that enough? Some think movies have to meet two key criteria in order to become hits and classics:
a) Movie is timeless - script elements don't refer to current cultural icon elements that would become unknown in 15-20 years. You could watch it today, and watch it again in 40 years and the story holds its own without the need of understanding who is 'Barney the Purple Dinosaur.'
b) It breaks new ground in how it is presented: Star Wars, Memento, The Matrix, Pulp Fiction, Terminator, and Fight Club. Each of these films did something different that had a direct impact on how the story was delivered and it set the bar on a style that was unique to itself.
Next film, Crash by Paul Haggis - both directed and written. I also learned that he had a heavy hand in the editing and other aspects of the film, especially casting of the roles. He also had a great working relationship with the films cinematographer J. Michael Muro. Editor Hughes Winborne also came to his prime during this film under Paul's leadership. I'm finding the films success depends on the director's leadership, especially if they are both the writer and director. Did you know Paul also helped write Million Dollar Baby and Letters from Iwo Jima? One a best picture Oscar winner and another nominee? What was it about those films that helped capture the spirit? If asked, any actor would work with Paul in a second - his supportive and coach-minded approach to films makes those who work with him appreciate his eye and talent in the industry.
A movie needs various elements to be successful, but it requires leadership for it to flow. A poor script would never be accepted by a director without his/her ability to see the vision clearly. Films like Eragon are an example of how poor leadership yet a brilliant story can fall flat on its face - the script was written by people who had no business writing it, let alone directing it. But without that leadership from the director to make this movie flow, editing teams work well together, ownership of the script to make it great, and finding the right people to give strong sound and muscial scores, a film will be a lot less of what it could be. Those that are great, you only have to look at the chair that says 'director' to understand why it is. Strange enough through their leadership, we find that it's not that they always make movies right, they tend to do the right movie.